Rep. Steve Berch Newsletter - A state without statesmen

Most objective observers of Idaho politics agree that 2021 was perhaps the worst legislative session in the state’s history. The 2022 session promises to be worse – it’s an election year.
 
Every two years, all 105 members of the entire Idaho Legislature are up for re-election. This makes it difficult for legislators to take long-term actions, especially when it involves spending tax dollars. The fastest growing state in the nation needs to make significant investments in education, infrastructure and vital services to keep up and stay ahead of the curve. However, spending tax dollars doesn’t go well with campaign rhetoric, especially in Idaho.
 
We need a legislature of statesmen who will look beyond election year politics and make the important long-term decisions necessary to meet today’s needs and sustain Idaho’s future prosperity.

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As always, please feel free to contact me anytime for any reason. My contact information appears at the end of this newsletter.

The road less traveled

 

I have walked nearly every street in my district multiple times and have had meaningful conversations with thousands of people from across the political spectrum. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from these conversations is that good ideas and good people come from all directions.
 
For me, this experience has helped define the difference between a politician and a statesman. A politician tends to only represent the people who vote for them. A statesman strives to represent everyone in their constituency whether they voted for them or not. A statesman respects those good ideas – no matter where they come from – by incorporating them into the work they do.
 
It’s much easier to be a politician than a statesman:
  • It’s much easier to excite people by inflaming their emotions with false and misleading messages, often laced with fear and anger.
  • It’s much easier to make decisions based on what you want to believe is true, instead of doing the due diligence to know what is true.
  • It’s much easier to tell voters what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
  • It’s much easier to demonize your opponent, often letting third parties do the dirty work.
A statesman, however, works to bring people together and listens for points of agreement, instead of arguing about where they may disagree. With agreement, you can establish trust and respect, which is the first step toward working together to solve problems.
 
A statesman understands the need to reach reasonable compromise without violating one’s integrity. It’s about finding common ground by balancing different perspectives aimed toward a common goal.
 
A statesman takes the time to build a consensus of colleagues to tackle difficult issues. It takes patience and good listening skills to resolve major problems or advance complex initiatives that require the agreement of at least 36 representatives, 18 senators, and 1 governor.   
 
A statesman uses credible sources of information and seeks the insight of experts in their field when making decisions. It means acknowledging that others will know more about a given topic than you.
 
A statesman has the courage to make decisions that may not be popular in short term, but necessary to secure a beneficial long term outcome. It means telling voters how you voted on an issue – and why you voted the way you did. This is one of the reasons my newsletters tend to be longer and more detailed.
 
Visiting with voters at their door puts one on the road toward becoming a statesman. You learn the real issues and priorities of your district by talking face-to-face with your constituents. You learn to respect people of all political affiliations, and treat them with civility, decency and respect in both word and deed. You lead by example. This is why I’ve knocked on nearly 30,000 doors over the last 12 years. It helps me earn the respect of voters, even if we don’t always agree on everything all the time.
 
This is why I choose the road that leads to being a statesman.
 
Unfortunately the road toward statesmanship is less traveled by an increasing number of legislators and candidates these days. To be clear, there are several of my legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle that I respect as statesmen. We listen and learn from each other to our mutual benefit – and hopefully for the benefit of all Idahoans. 
 
However, I am concerned about the growing number of legislators and candidates think volume and repetition are a substitute for logic and critical thinking. It is discouraging to see bills promoting ideological purity that divides communities and denigrates (and even punishes) those who disagree. It is dangerous when legislators publicly promote and give credibility to false and misleading information in an effort to curry favor with a voter base.    
 
If we continue traveling down this increasingly rancorous political road, we wind up with a government that sees itself as not accountable to the public once they are elected; that has little regard for the consequences of its actions on those that disagree with them; that believes the ends justify the means – which leads to operating without a moral or ethical compass.
 
We wind up with a state without statesmen.
 
There is a path forward. Voters need to know who the people on their ballot really are. Ask yourself: Is the candidate or incumbent taking your vote for granted? Do they make it easy to contact them? Do they make an effort to personally visit you at your door? If you do get to meet them, do they want to listen to what’s important to you or tell you what’s important to them?
 
If you want more statesmen in the legislature, vote for the person – not a letter or a color.
 
Rotunda Roundup

State of the state address by Gov. Brad Little
The 2022 session kicked off with the State of the State address by Governor Little. He started by reviewing some accomplishments and contrasting himself with his presumed opponent (the Lt. Governor) when he said: “Leaders give people confidence and show the way through humble strength. Leaders listen. The voice of a leader is effective, not just loud.” 
 
He then criticized President Biden by name multiple times, however he didn’t mention President Trump (who endorsed his opponent). The speech then shifted to a list of priorities that checked many, but not all the boxes. He led with a huge surplus-driven tax cut (but left out grocery and property tax relief), followed by priorities for education and infrastructure (but silent on unaffordable housing, healthcare, prisons, or protecting access to public lands). And he said almost nothing about COVID, as if it no longer exists.
 
He outlined his priorities for the legislature to consider. However, while the governor may sing a pleasant tune, the legislature gets to call the dance – especially when it has more than enough votes to override a veto. 
 
I listened to the speech, but I will be paying closer attention to the bills created by the legislature – which is under no obligation to do anything the Governor wants. What ultimately matters during the session is what the people who control the legislature try to do, not what the Governor says.
 
Income tax cut and rebate (H436 – passed the House, in the Senate).  This bill takes over $600 million of the state’s so-called $1.9 billion “surplus” and spends $251 million of it on an on-going reduction in income tax rates and an additional $350 million on a one-time tax rebate. The on-going portion reduces state revenue for education and other services by a quarter of a billion dollars each year.  This will raise and keep your property taxes high as the legislature forces school districts to continually float bonds and levies to hire more teachers at competitive salaries, and repair or replace aging buildings and facilities.
 
Here’s the lopsided distribution of this “tax cut” which goes mostly to the wealthy and well-connected:
But wait, there’s more! When you add this to the $390 million from last year’s tax cut (H380), the legislature has spent over $1 billion of “surplus” funds on tax breaks that could have paid off every school bond in every district, fund the backlog of basic road and bridge maintenance across the state and finally get rid of the grocery tax. That is the kind of tax relief voters tell me they want – not another tax cut for those who need it the least. 
 
In fact, the state wouldn’t have such a large “surplus” if the legislature had been adequately funding its responsibilities for education, infrastructure and vital services to begin with. If you don’t pay your mortgage, utility and medical bills, you don’t really have a “surplus” to spend on a vacation. As one of my colleagues said on the House floor: “You shouldn’t get your ice cream until you first finish your vegetables.”
 
This tax cut – coming just two months before the start of the May primary campaign season – is being ballyhooed as the state’s largest tax cut in history. In fact, it is perhaps the most irresponsible act of fiscal management in the state’s history. I did not vote against a tax cut.  My “no” vote was for fiscal responsibility that would deliver real tax relief to those who need it most.

Remove local government control of rental application fees and security deposits (H442 – approved for a public hearing). This is a bill that only an unscrupulous landlord could love. It prohibits cities and local governments from controlling predatory behavior by landlords and rental management companies. It prevents municipalities from placing any controls or constraints on application fees and security deposits.
 
I’ve heard from several constituents who paid large non-refundable application fees for an apartment, only to learn that the apartment was rented to someone else later that same day. This bill prevents local governments from protecting consumers from such bad actors.
 
I support the Idaho Republican Party principle that government is best when it’s closest to the people. It is disappointing to see many of my Republican colleagues take action contrary to this principle. I do not support this bill.

Remove every Idaho education standard for math, English and science without replacement (HCR027 – approved in committee, moves to the full House).  Why would the House Education committee approve a resolution that on face value appears to be so irresponsible? Well, it is part of a continuing, orchestrated effort by legislators and outside forces to say “I killed Common Core” in advance of the May primary election.
 
The scheme is to remove all the standards first by passing this resolution. Creating a standards void would then bring pressure to pass a separate bill later (H437) that would install new standards. These new standards were created by working groups over the summer. The State Board of Education was not invited to be a member of the working groups, even though they are responsible for reviewing, vetting and approving Idaho’s education standards (more about the standards in a future newsletter).
 
The problem with this scheme is that there is no guarantee that H437 (or any other replacement bill of unspecified content) will actually pass, resulting in Idaho not having any teaching standards. Any school district or charter school could teach anything it wants (which is a desired outcome by some).
 
I can only vote on the legislation that is in front of me – not a promise of what might happen in the future. Voting for an action that does away with all teaching standards without replacing them with anything is not a smart thing to do. I voted against this resolution.
 

In the hopper

H443. This bill will provide school districts the option to allow teachers to buy into the state medical insurance program, which for most will be a significant cost savings.

H439. This bill moved the deadline for unaffiliated voters to change their party affiliation to the last day candidates can file for the primary election, which this year is March 11.  Currently, unaffiliated voters can change their party affiliation up until the day of the primary election, which this year is May 17.
 

     

ABOUT STEVE BERCH

Steve represents District 15, House Seat A. He is a member of the Education, Business, Local Government committees, and JLOC (Joint Legislative Oversight Committee). 

208-890-9339
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