Many years ago, the late George Carlin had a hilarious stand-up comedy routine, talking about the differences between football and baseball. Some of the same principles can be applied to looking at the contrast between freshmen and seasoned politicians serving in the Idaho Legislature.
“In football (think freshmen) the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. In baseball (think Statehouse veterans), the object is to go home! And to be safe! … I hope I’ll be safe at home!”
I’m not nearly as clever as George Carlin. But with freshmen, the object of serving in the Legislature is to represent constituents, make long-overdue changes and accomplish great things for Idaho. With lawmakers who have been around awhile, the constituents are lobbyists wearing green tags; they know that change moves at a glacial pace and big issues, such as education and transportation funding, typically are decided in the final week of a session – if at all.
Two promising figures of this year’s freshman class – Reps. Mark Nye (D-Pocatello) and Caroline Troy (R-Genesee) – have received a few reality checks in their first session.
“During my campaign, I knocked on doors and would ask people what they thought about the issues. Over and over, I heard education, education; and jobs, jobs,” Nye said. “I finally got it – it’s education and jobs that people want. So I get here … you’re the queen, or you’re the governor and ask how to fix it. You know what they say? ‘Uhhhh.’”
Troy said her constituents sent her to Boise to “make great changes,” only to find volumes of rules that are anything but exciting to read. She’s no stranger to bureaucracies, having worked 20 years at the University of Idaho and Washington State University. But the Legislature goes to another level.
“I felt I was in a foreign language program,” she said. “In the Health and Welfare Committee, there are 17 pages of acronyms. I sit there and say, ‘What are they talking about.’”
Nye, a veteran trial and insurance defense lawyer, and past president of the Idaho Bar Association is not overwhelmed by legalities. He has to check himself from speaking up about legal interpretations or misinterpretations.
“It’s not a foreign language to me – just a foreign procedure,” he said. “What’s this second-reading stuff?”
Nye knows all about the rough combat in courtrooms. Now, he’s seeing a more polite approach, where lawmakers ask sometimes pointed questions of “the lady from …, or “the gentleman from …
“You don’t speak loudly and you don’t go too far to press your point.”
For Troy, her biggest adjustment is dealing with the volume of business. Some 800 pieces of legislation come before lawmakers each year and votes are taken on several hundred of those.
Troy and Nye will be in for a real treat in the final days of the session, when the legislative calendar looks like popcorn coming out of the chute, and the brain turns to mush. But both freshmen are keeping a healthy perspective while realizing they still have a lot to learn.
“I just remember that I’m one of 105 people in the Legislature making decisions,” Troy said.
Nye says one of his early lessons is, “you’ve got to be patient.” He’s also taking time to enjoy his surroundings, where his Aunt Mabel Nye worked as an education department secretary in the 1030s.
“I can’t wait to get into this building every day,” Nye said. “There are wonderful colleagues here and everybody loves Idaho. Everyone is working to do good.”
“I agree with that,” Troy said. “You can tell everybody has the best interest of Idaho at heart, although everybody doesn’t always agree on everything.”
In my conversation with Nye and Troy, a few small differences surfaced – mainly on the subject of education funding. Troy said at one point that money is not the answer to all of Idaho’s education woes.
“Yes, it is,” Nye retorted.
That’s a debate that has been going on for the 30 years I’ve been following the Legislature and will continue for as long as they serve, which as Nye describes, is “two years to life.”
Troy is not thinking about the future.
“Right now, I’m just trying to get through this year,” she said with a nervous laugh.