In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned the nation of the dangers of partisanship in an elective government like ours.
He advised that “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it in the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
Partisanship is tearing this country apart. One of the strong proponents of working across the aisle, the late Sen. John McCain, was just laid to rest. This would be a good time to reflect on things we can do in our good state to discourage and restrain partisanship.
Earlier this year, long-time political writer Randy Stapilus observed that most of Idaho’s statewide elective offices were not or should not be partisan in nature. The same could be said of local government administrative offices. Why not remove the party labels from essentially non-political offices and focus on the qualifications of candidates to carry out the laws that govern their work?
The Secretary of State oversees elections and maintains business and commercial records. It is not clear why party affiliation should matter in that position. The same goes for the State Treasurer and State Controller, both of whom are charged with performing administrative duties, not setting state policy.
The Attorney General does have some ability to make or influence policy through rulemaking and court proceedings but must also maintain independence from the Governor and Legislature. Based on my eight years of experience in that office, it is not uncommon for officeholders of your own party to expect favoritism--a favorable legal opinion on a policy issue, favorable treatment of a constituent crosswise with the law, or urging that you file a lawsuit of questionable merit.
The Attorney General represents the state and the people, not fellow party members. An AG who remains true to the law will often make fellow party members unhappy.
Running on a non-partisan ticket like judges do might clarify the responsibilities of the office and reduce the pestering an AG gets to carry water for the party.
It should be said that the current Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has done a good job of advising the Legislature and Governor about the requirements of the law. When his advice has been ignored, he is usually found by the courts to have been correct. Removing that office from partisan influences would be a good step.
One of the most important offices in state government is that of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is an administrative position but has a vitally important advocacy component. Political affiliation won’t result in better-educated children. The way to foster student achievement is to work tirelessly with stakeholders to develop and implement strategies for teaching, learning, and school safety.
The Superintendent position should go to the person who demonstrates a willingness to dig in and improve our school system by hard work and advocacy, regardless of party membership. We should take this office out of the political arena and focus on who will work the hardest and smartest to educate and protect our kids. I believe George Washington would agree.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general.