Who’s the Boss?

By Mary Souza

Mary SouzaDuring my eight years serving in the Idaho Senate, I was incredibly impressed with the respectful nature of the Senate’s legislative process. Decades of tradition insured thoughtful decorum so ideas could be debated, often vigorously, but without personal attacks. After coming from the “blood sport” politics of North Idaho back then, I was relieved to find such rational behavior among my peers in the Senate and appreciated it throughout my time representing CdA.

But now with the new batch of legislators, the whole atmosphere in our state’s capitol has degraded. Some seasoned legislators call it “the death of decorum,” and others tell me they are suffering from PTSD after just one session with some of the new crew.

Many of the problematic newbies are close associates of Idaho Freedom Foundation, Citizen’s Alliance of Idaho and some of the rogue central committees like ours here in Kootenai County. Are they purposefully trying to break our system of governance?

I’m very aware that Brent Regan, chair of the KCRCC, and others in his power group, are students of Saul Alinsky, the 1940s community organizer idolized by both Obama and Hillary. One of Alinsky’s most potent lessons is “disrupt the system.” To demonstrate this lesson, he famously considered giving a group of low income volunteers big bowls of beans to eat before paying their way into an elite symphony concert. You can imagine what would have happened. Yes, they would have disrupted the system.

Is that what the IFF/KCRCC new legislators are trying to do? I hope not because our system was very good. Everyone could feel safe expressing the views of their district on any bill. We have 35 districts in Idaho and each has its own priorities. It is essential to maintain a level of respect and decorum so ideas and information from all parts of our state can be shared openly.

Last month, the ProTem of the Senate, who is “The Boss,” finally ran out of patience. He sent letters to three of the new senators: Scott Herndon from Bonner County, Brian Lenny from Nampa and Glenneda Zulderveld from Twin Falls. They were warned about their behavior and Lenney and Zulderveld were removed as vice chairs of committees, although they were all allowed to stay as members of the committees. Herndon was not a vice chair.

I have a copy of all the letters. The Pro Tem wrote to Senator Lenney: “It has been brought to my attention that on countless occasions you have aggressively attacked, disparaged, and degraded fellow members of the Senate, members of Senate leadership, and members of the general public. Further, you have continually disrespected and harmed the legislative process by violating the rules governing decorum. Although we expect Senators to advocate zealously on behalf of their constituents, Senators must do so in a manner that protects the integrity of the process and ensures the people’s business may be done in an efficient and effective manner.”

Senator Zulderveld’s letter was very similar, also stating “…you recently posted an article written by you that openly attacked the integrity of your fellow members of the Idaho Senate … degrading and disrespectful of our colleagues.”

And Senator Herndon’s letter said, “…you posted an article degrading and disparaging every Senate member serving on JFAC … Members of JFAC are tasked with setting the budget for the entire state, which requires countless hours … Your statements are unnecessary and inexcusable.”

The Pro Tem also questioned Herndon’s work ethic and the very few budgets he had worked in committee. On a recent FreedomBros podcast (more on this below), Herndon was outraged by this. He brags that he “carried” five budgets on the senate floor, which does not mean he actually worked on them. Don’t be fooled. I served on JFAC, there are a huge number of budgets to review line by line, with working lunches and early mornings. It’s exhausting. Herndon didn’t do much, and presenting five budgets on the floor of the Senate is embarrassingly low.

So, upon receiving these letters, what did the senators in question do? They went on social media and attacked the Pro Tem. I forced myself to watch a podcast called “Freedom Bros” hosted by Dustin Hurst, former IFF staff. All three of the senators were there, and after a great deal of personal chit chat, they finally got to the issue of the letters. Herndon and Lenney were the most outraged. They claimed the Pro Tem of the Senate does not have the right to discipline them or remove them from their vice chair positions.

They are wrong.

It is true that every senator is elected by the voters of their districts. But during the organizational session before the legislature starts, all of the members of the senate, including the Democrats, vote to elect a Pro Tem, and also vote to adopt the Rules of the Senate (that’s Rule 5), I’m looking at my copy of those rules right now. In Rule 19 it says the committee assignments shall be made under the direction of the Pro Tem. Further, Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, which rules most legislatures in our country including ours, states on page 394, “A legislative body has the right to regulate the conduct of its members and may discipline a member as it deems appropriate, including reprimand, censure or expulsion.”

So, good readers, there’s a wise saying about behavior that perhaps our rogue senators should keep in mind: “Disrespect will close doors that apologies cannot open.”

I know that you, as voters, expect our Idaho government to operate in an organized, effective manner to make sure your priorities are respectfully, thoughtfully, debated and passed into law if approved. You deserve it, so don’t be fooled by bluster of those demeaning others then posing for the spotlight. Please vote carefully.

Mary Souza served in the Idaho Senate for eight years, retiring last year. If you are concerned about outside influences controlling your legislators, please share this column with friends.