Why Abraham Lincoln Would Love the Idaho Legislature

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“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

For many, the Gettysburg Address is one of the greatest speeches of all time. It is an impassioned plea from a weary President, trying to heal a nation’s wounds. The speech came during the dedication of Soldier’s National Cemetery.

I have walked the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg and Soldiers National Cemetery. Both stand as solemn reminders of the cost of freedom. Both sides of the battle suffered tremendous casualties during the war. Some would question the cost of the war, not only in lives lost but in the countries wounds that still remain. Yet, one can’t deny the sacrifice of all parties moved us forward, toward a better place.

In reviewing this years’ Idaho Legislative session, I thought of Lincoln’s famous line at the end of the speech. His line about a government of the people, by the people, for the people, rang in my ears as I considered the efforts of our citizen legislature.

Idaho’s legislature is the embodiment of that phrase. Our legislature is made of Idaho’s people. They come from every corner of the state and from every walk of life. In each session, you can have farmers, sitting next to attorneys or housewives. You can have seasoned leaders sitting next to bright-eyed newcomers. Each looking to do their best for their constituents and the state.

In America, our right to free speech is one of our greatest freedoms. We fight to defend the right, even when the speeches we protect are painful. As I listen to talk radio and hear the voices complaining about our legislature, it saddens me. The debate around issues is not what saddens me, rather, it is the personal attacks that get to me.

People on social media, blogs, newspapers, and radio are free to voice their opinion. And when it comes to politics, opinions are strong, which is good. But, I often wonder if we aren’t so blinded by our own opinions and need to be right, that we overlook a few key things.

The first thing we overlook is that the legislators are human. The only difference between them everyone else is their willingness to serve. They were willing to leave their families and jobs to put their lives on hold for their community. They are willing to serve for an ideal and for the hope of a brighter tomorrow.

The next thing we overlook is their selflessness. Yes, they get paid for their time and effort, but when you factor time and effort into the equation, the pay is less than minimum wage. I find it humorous when critics complain our legislators are corrupt and bought and paid for by some evil corporation. It would be naive to assume none have ever strayed into dark territory. But, the majority are good honest people doing their best and should be treated as such.

Another overlooked aspect is the difficulty of the work. Each day begins early, ends late. They endure countless meetings and hours of reading complicated legislation. With legislation, every word means something and must be considered. Yet, they must find time to educate themselves to make informed decisions. This is a never-ending battle. Additionally, there are countless phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings.

To know and understand the system takes time. Most don’t feel comfortable with the process until the second or third year. To add to the difficulty is the fact that everything happens under a microscope. Between the media and interested citizens, not very many things escape public attention.

The final thing often overlooked is the effectiveness of our citizen legislature. A 2011 study done by the Goldwater Institute revealed how effective these types of governments are. The report states:

“An analysis of indicators of economic and personal freedom in the 50 states reveals that states with “citizen legislatures”—part-time legislators, low salaries, short sessions, and small legislative staffs—enjoy more economic and individual liberty.”

The report findings also indicated:

“Our findings confirm that citizen legislators—as opposed to career legislators—avoid legislating in areas that are normally private domains and prevent the government from expanding unsustainably.”

At the time of the report, Idaho ranked 10th on their fiscal freedom index. They attribute this to the effectiveness of the citizen legislature. The report reasoned are more effective because they operate under a time limit, with reduced staffs and lower salaries. All which make the challenge of being a citizen legislator difficult.

In the final analysis, our legislators are good people willing to do a tough job. Their willingness to endure scrutiny and criticism from all sides is commendable. The disturbing part about much of the criticism is its basis. Often it comes from incorrect facts and misinformation. Too often, people don’t take time to research their position. Instead, they choose knee jerk responses to flood social media pages.

Lincoln would be proud of legislator’s efforts to support democracy. While the battles they face pale in comparison to Gettysburg, they are important because they continue the fight for democracy. So next time you see your legislator, give them a firm handshake and thank them for their service.

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