The Last Word: Idaho and Utah Legislatures Are Models of Good Governance
They Prioritize Legislation and Focus on What Matters Most
If you have ever tried to make a lot of important, controversial decisions in a really large committee, you know how hard it can be to reach consensus. That’s especially true if each committee member is independent-minded and holds strong opinions.
That’s the challenge faced each year by the Idaho and Utah state legislatures. There are 104 Utah lawmakers and 105 Idaho lawmakers. Each was independently elected by voters. Each has strong opinions and is passionate about certain issues. Each feels a mandate, each has a fairly healthy ego and each represents a unique constituency.
And, yet, these men and women come together early each year, spending several weeks at their respective state capitols, debating and voting. And when the current sessions wrap up, they will have taken care of the business of their states, dealt with tough problems and appropriated money to serve citizen needs, all while keeping taxes low and balancing their state budgets.
It is really quite remarkable what these legislators, along with their governors and other elected officials, accomplish each year. They grapple with their states’ most severe problems. Lesser problems are often solved before they reach the legislatures.
Utah and Idaho enjoy two of the strongest economies in the nation. An important ingredient of economic strength is good political governance. It’s not a coincidence that these two landlocked states with relatively small populations in the interior West have strong and diverse economies, while also enjoying traditions of excellent political leadership.
And it’s not true that Utahns and Idahoans all think alike so that decisions are easy for their representatives. Certainly, decades ago, the states and their citizens were fairly homogenous. Today, however, many divergent forces pull public opinion in a variety of directions. Salt Lake City and Boise are among the nation’s progressive, liberal cities. But other parts of both states, including many rural areas, are very conservative.
Clashes over public lands, environmental issues, rapid development, water, social issues and many other matters produce robust debate in the committees, hallways, and floors of the House and Senate.
And, yet, when all is said and done, these legislators will have served their constituents well and moved their states toward better life quality and prosperity.
I believe they are successful for a couple of reasons:
- Idaho and Utah state lawmakers are part-time, not full-time, politicians. They work in a wide variety of regular jobs in their communities. They live with the laws they make. They aren’t obsessed with politics. They receive daily input and feedback from their constituents at work, the grocery store, church, and at social and sporting events. They are pragmatic and sensible.
- They know that compromise and collaboration are key to accomplishing difficult things. They respect each other. Minority party members sponsor important legislation — and get it passed.
- They are extremely well-organized with excellent professional staff so they can prioritize legislation and focus on what matters most.
Our national Congress, with its dysfunction and inability to compromise on top issues, could learn a great deal from the Idaho and Utah legislatures.