The leaves are starting to fall from the trees and temperatures across Idaho are dropping. January is quickly approaching and, before we know it, Idaho legislators will be heading back to the Capitol to start the 2020 legislative session. For the first three months of 2020, we will come together in meetings, committees, and on the floor to figure out what laws and codes need changing in Idaho.
Most Idahoans probably know that we will be grappling with a myriad of contentious, complicated issues this year. Over the last several months, Democratic and Republican legislators haven’t been shy when talking about their intentions to bring bills that are going to make significant changes in the Gem State. In three short months of the session, we will work on laws that impact everything from health care to public lands to voting rights to education. This will be the second session of my legislative career and, after what I observed during my first year in office, my biggest hope this year is that we can work in a more bipartisan way.
It’s no secret that the Idaho Legislature is controlled by a Republican supermajority. With 21 Democrats total in the House and Senate, we occupy around 20 percent of the Legislature. However, Democrats play an important role in pushing for more progressive laws in Idaho and in stopping legislation that is harmful, unfair or destructive to Idaho values. During the last legislative session, Democrats led the fight against several bad pieces of legislation, including bills that would have allowed for gerrymandering, made passing an initiative nearly impossible for Idaho citizens and eliminated the Medicaid expansion proposition that was passed by Idaho voters. In many of these cases, we were the party that had to remind the Legislature to respect the voice of the people and advocate for their best interest.
The Legislature could avoid many of these fights if we started the conversation from a bipartisan place instead of pushing bills that are willfully ignorant of Democratic voices and the voices of Idaho voters. Bipartisan communication must be prioritized heading into the 2020 legislative session. Legislators are meant to represent the will of their constituents in the Legislature. Instead of heading to the Capitol with the intention of getting everything that you want, it’s better to come with the mindset of compromising to honor Idaho values. Democrats and Republicans must work together to give all Idahoans the best shot at achieving prosperity, regardless of their political beliefs.
It’s not always easy to work together. As legislators head to Boise for the legislative session, it would be easier to draft bills that are exactly what we believe is best for all citizens. However, I challenge all of the legislators to start working in a more bipartisan way so that all Idahoans have their interests represented. Set up meetings with stakeholders and other lawmakers who may have expertise in the area that you are working on. Prioritize collecting an abundance of opinions to figure out the solutions to our problems.
We must have the political courage to make the best decisions for Idahoans.
This column was submitted by state Rep. Chris Abernathy, D-Pocatello.