Ghosts and Governing




We finished an extraordinary session last May to address some unfinished business. The legislature had adjourned and left a bill in committee that would have made enforcement of Idaho child support payments impossible. Some thought this was good but I heard from many in my district opposed to this unification of law. I listened, corresponded with most but came to realize in my mind that their fears were unfounded. In my first years of service in the Idaho Senate I had a similar experience with fears and voting.

Bills can be amended to make them “better”, but one’s vote comes down to “Yes” or “No”, so the ultimate decision must be based on what one believes is the best for Idaho and my constituents. My memory around this episode is not totally clear; I don’t remember the specific bill or issue, but I recall it came in the Senate Health and Welfare committee. That was a difficult year, my first; we had the Luna Laws, Medicaid cuts and lots to just figure out as a new legislator. I do remember the fatigue and effort of that time. The specific bill had a small impact, but I recall reading it and hearing the testimony, and deciding that no one else was seeing the unintended consequences I could see. I asked questions but got little comfort, then stated my case strongly. The bill passed through committee over my opposition. After we adjourned a committee member I trusted came up to me with a worried look. She leaned in and said, “Dan, what’s up? You don’t usually see ghosts.”

For that is what I was doing, seeing a ghost in the law. I had made the law into a phantom threat that I perceived as real. My fatigue, the legal language, my super-minority status all contributed. But now, five years later I can say that my fears were unfounded.

Fear can be a powerful political tool, but it should not be the signpost one uses to make decisions of governance. Fear can be exploited when one’s goal is power. But if the goal is to provide for the common good, fears must be addressed with reason and conscience, so that they are not the prominent issue when steering the ship of state.

The special session addressed some legislators and constituents fears, and the bill as amended passed; child support in Idaho is not at risk. But fear still prevents Idaho from addressing another big issue: health insurance for the working poor in Idaho. Our leaders have avoided the decision of whether low income folks should be enrolled in health insurance or instead receive bailouts from taxpayers after they have incurred catastrophic medical costs. There are fears about expanding Medicaid enrollment. There are fears about the Medicaid program. There are fears that the federal partnership is flawed.  All these are reasonable fears and need to be addressed. But we are not doing so. We are waiting. Fear is costing all of us. It’s past time to face up to our fears.


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About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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