House Speaker Scott Bedke was standing on the second floor of the Statehouse, with arms folded and a frustrated look on his face – contemplating a longer day than he expected for the Legislature’s special session last week.
“I can’t believe the political posturing that is going on,” he told me.
Hmmm. Who could imagine political posturing in the Idaho Legislature?
“Yeah, I know,” Bedke said. “But this is about a child-support program, enforcement and payments. It should be pretty simple, right?
On the third floor, House Democrat leader John Rusche was sitting in his office, with a glum look on his face. “Do, I say, ‘I told you so?’ Or do I thank Republicans for finally getting it right?”
Bedke and Rusche were right; the issue really was simple. The choice was approving H 1, or placing the state’s child-support system in jeopardy. But conversations strayed into other directions, including international treaties, state sovereignty and data bases.
Outside the House offices, longtime Rep. Tom Loertscher reminded me that now-Congressman Mike Simpson used to rail against the federal mandates when he was a state representative. In 1987 as lieutenant governor, and when the governor was out of town, Butch Otter vetoed a bill to raise the drinking age to 21 because he didn’t like the idea of Washington, D.C. forcing the law on the state.
“Where’s the old Mike Simpson and the old Butch Otter? Look what they’re doing now,” Loertscher said.
Loertscher voted with the majority for H 1, but not without reservations.
“We’re told that if we don’t pass this bill, that the entire program will shut down,” Loertscher said. “It’s nothing but lies, lies, lies.”
Some lawmakers stayed with their opposition, as reported by Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review.
“I’m one of the original nine, and I’m very, very proud to be one. And I’m going to vote the same way again,” said Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene.
In the same story, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said, “We are throwing away our state sovereignty and due process for efficiency – that’s absurd.”
The state could have been throwing away some $46 million by not approving H 1, potentially providing a soft landing for dead-beat parents. That’s the situation people such as Bedke and Rusche were trying to avoid. Who knows if the federal government would have made good on its threat to pull the plug on Idaho’s child-support program. It wasn’t worth the risk.
But some lawmakers were in no mood for simplicity. One of the more interesting commentaries came from freshman Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, who took a swipe at media coverage of the issue and Betsy Russell, the queen of political reporters in Idaho.
Since the end of the session, Souza wrote, “the press and blogs have gone wild … calling (legislators) all kinds of names, including ‘ignorant,’ ‘idiots’ and much more. They have accused the legislators of hating children, being greedy Republicans and on and on. The legislators are not stupid at all, they were acting responsibly.”
Souza claims that Russell provided “sensational headlines and descriptions” in her reporting. Two of the examples mentioned were, “Otter ‘concerned,’ says state’s child support system at serious risk,” and “Brouhaha over killed child support divides House Republicans.”
“Betsy wrote a long description and included several highly controversial quotes,” Souza says.
Discussion about the quality of political reporting is fair game, of course, and Souza is entitled to her opinion. But the senator’s definition of sensationalism is different from mine. What Otter thinks about a state issue is news, and some quotes reporters gather are controversial. I’ve known Russell for almost 30 years and her only “agenda” is providing consistently solid reporting. But to Souza’s credit, she voted the right way on H 1.
The conservative story could have been told better had Congressman Raul Labrador provided some help. He was a facilitator on a solution, not the villain. But he would have served himself, and his conservative friends in the Legislature, better if he had clarified his role on the issue, rather than playing hide-and-seek with reporters.
No doubt, we’ll be hearing much more about this issue when the campaign season heats up next year. For now, Idaho has a functioning child-support enforcement program … that is, until the next federal mandate comes down the pike.