Mike Murphy

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First there was “Where’s Waldo?” Then it was “Where Are the Oregon GOP Senators?”

For the second time during the current legislative session, all 11 Republican senators walked out on the job and went into hiding. Their goal: To kill a bill that would cap carbon emissions, a bill fiercely opposed by industry lobbyists, including the Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce group.

Such a strategy is apparently some sort of new twist on democracy in which politicians promise during their election campaigns to represent the people’s wishes, then once in office do whatever they darn well please, or, as in this case, whatever non-renewable energy lobbyists coax them to do — voters be damned.

Of course, you can make an argument that politicians have always behaved this way. It’s just that today the flagrancy is rather shocking.

To my knowledge, Idaho state GOP legislators have never skipped town while on the job. Although that strategy may have been preferable to the lowdown tactics they employed when they wasted a great deal of the 2019 session to find ways to avoid doing what the people ordered them to do regarding funding Medicaid expansion.

And if you’ve ever wondered what Idaho GOP legislators did when they weren’t sitting around in Boise for three months trying to decide if they should require kids to purchase a state license before setting up a lemonade stand, well now you know.

Just this past week, an article from the Idaho Press by Tommy Simmons and Erin Bamer reported that Idaho “House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill are suing state Treasurer Julie Ellsworth over disputed office space on the first floor of the Capitol.”

I am not joking. You read that correctly. The top Republican leaders in the state Legislature are suing over “disputed office space.” No matter how many times I type that statement, I still cannot believe what I’m saying.

According to Bedke and Hill, the quality of the current office space for legislators is inadequate. The flimsy walls create a lack of privacy. I suppose one could look at it that way.

On the other hand, one could consider that the flimsy walls add to the Legislature’s transparency — isn’t that a good thing?

Back in 2007, the Legislature passed a law at the governor’s request that states “the legislative department shall determine the use of the space on the first, third, and fourth floors” of the state Capitol while giving the governor control of the second floor.

Well, naturally the governor would request such a bill. After all, who wouldn’t want his own entire floor to control? But did the Legislature have to pass it simply because he requested it? Didn’t they stop to consider for a moment whether the bill made economic sense? Apparently not.

And why did the governor want his floor to be located between the legislators’ floors instead of on the first floor? And why were the legislators’ flimsy walls installed so that someone could eavesdrop on their clandestine conversations? Ah-ha! See what I’m getting at?

Notice the law states the Legislature gets to “determine the use of the space.” I interpret that to mean how the space is to be used, as in how hard the elected officials shall work while they’re in the space. It certainly does not imply at all that they can use millions of taxpayers’ dollars to make the space all fancy-schmancy.

I personally have not seen the current office space in question. But something tells me we are not talking about some bare-bones “Bartleby the Scrivener” type of work environment where the legislators are forced to sit in isolation, staring out the window at a brick wall three feet away.

Yet, Idahoans feel like they are dealing with a brick wall when it comes to the GOP legislators fulfilling the people’s wishes. Now here’s where the money for new office space and money for Medicaid expansion issues intersect.

Back in February, Gov. Brad Little stated in his budget proposal that the Medicaid expansion would be paid for with $10.6 million from the tobacco settlement fund and money from, of all places, savings created due to Medicaid expansion! None of the money would come out of the state’s general fund.

This proposal was generally applauded by the Legislature. Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said, “One of the big concerns I’ve had all along about Medicaid expansion has been that it would take a good amount of general fund dollars. I was pleased to see the governor’s recommendation that showed a clear path forward, that Medicaid could be funded with no new general fund dollars.”

Yet, where do you think the money is going to come from to pay for the desired Capitol building office space renovation being sued for by Bedke and Hill? The state’s general fund. And how much do you guess is the estimated cost of the renovation? $10.6 million!!

Well, thank God we don’t have to waste $10.6 million of the state’s general fund on sick and dying Idahoans. But hallelujah! We can spend $10.6 million of the state’s general fund on legislators’ new desks, walls and carpet.

The Idaho Press reported that Speaker Scott Bedke felt what happens to the office space is not important, what’s important to him is following the law. “Do the laws mean anything?” Bedke asked.

You know what, Scott? That’s exactly what Idahoans asked in reaction to your handling of the Medicaid expansion they passed last November.

Mike Murphy of Pocatello is an award-winning columnist whose articles are syndicated by Senior Wire. He recently published a book titled “Tortoise Crossing — Expect Long Delays,” which is a collection of 100 of his favorite columns. It is available on Amazon.com.