Stephen Hartgen

Stephen Hartgen

Despite some vibrant yelling that Gov. Brad Little is a “tyrant” for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems unlikely that an amendment restricting the governor’s power would pass.

Sure, it’s only August and legislators are just now testing windage on a wide range of proposals. But if a joint House-Senate Committee on July 20 is any indication, the issue is likely to fizzle come this winter in Boise. It’s a safe bet there won’t be a ballot measure for voters to decide in 2022, up on down.

The reasons are plain enough. This “restrict Little’s power” boomlet is just another effort by some anti-Little members of the House to undermine the governor. It’s led by fanatics and that, in itself, will weaken its overall breadth of support. Legislators are cautious indeed to participate in such a charge.

Indeed, it seems a “ramparts” issue. Would these nit-pickers say the same if Raul Labrador or Janice McGeachin were in the governor’s office? Obviously no, so their calls for less gubernatorial power is nothing more than anti-Little yammering and pettiness. One man’s tyrant is another’s leader.

That doesn’t mean people don’t have their noses out of joint over Little’s pandemic actions, particularly his “wear your mask” appeals. The governor has tried to strike a middle ground, encouraging use but not mandating masks. But it’s thin soup indeed to use that as a reason to fundamentally change the governmental balance of power. Just how is encouraging face masks “tyrannical?” How is it a “house arrest” to prohibit someone from going down to the Oasis Stop-N-Go and buying a box of sugar donuts?

Nonsense. These rightists don’t like to read it, but both the U.S. and Idaho constitutions specifically note the promoting of the general welfare of the people as a whole in their preambles. And it’s clearly within Little’s authority to take actions to do so.

Except for the House Harpies, there doesn’t even seem to be much clamoring for such an amendment. You could tell by watching the live-stream. The hotheads had their flags up, but weren’t about to sail out to fight.

Senators were particularly reserved. So it would seem doubtful to get two-thirds votes from either body, much less a majority of the voters on the 2022 ballot, still more than two years away. By then, the issue is likely to be sound and fury, signifying nothing, just another effort by malcontents to harm Little.

Some 15 House members attended an earlier meeting this summer, but took no action on whether a special session was even needed. It’s an old principle of governance that doing the minimum is often appropriate.

That’s not to say the topic won’t come up. Rightist legislators have been yelling for months about Little’s so-called heavy handedness, but the governor’s actions reflect modest tweaks, not undermining of anyone’s rights. He’s included legislators all along in the pandemic-response measures. If they decline to participate, that’s their issue, not Little’s.

Article 3, section 8 of the Idaho Constitution makes it clear that only the governor can call a special session, Freedom Foundation’s losing “scholars” view notwithstanding.

Another hurdle is the difference between the House and Senate. They are designed as separate voices, but it is the House today which the more fraught with discord and lack of civility due to these malcontents.

The Senate is far less strident in its views. It’s hard to see how this would pass the Senate by a two-thirds vote, even if it cleared the House. That would leave the House with an embarrassing “overhang” vote they can’t get past the Senate.

In short, both process and politics weigh against a constitutional amendment to limit the governor’s power.

Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.