It happens every Idaho legislative session, this elaborate dance ritual. The good thing is, everyone knows their part by rote.
First, a legislator runs out some noisy but ultimately toothless flame mail directed at the federal government. This rallies the faithful and rankles the critics. And we devote too much ink to the whole exercise.
Dancing lead this year is Rep. Dick Harwood, a St. Maries Republican serving his ninth year at the Statehouse. He is sponsoring a
"joint memorial." Don't get blinded by the florid lexicon of the Legislature. Joint memorials are non-binding letters to the feds. This is common knowledge to everyone who then proceeds to take joint memorials seriously.
Harwood has drafted an odd missive. At one point, he scolds Congress for delegating monetary authority to the Federal Reserve, "thus failing to protect and provide a sound monetary system as defined and mandated by the Constitution of the United States." At another point, he pointedly reminds Congress that the 1oth Amendment grants the states and the people all power not specifically granted to the feds.
According to the memorial: "This serves as notice and demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers."
That'll sure make a difference.
Harwood is not, with apologies to Billy Idol, dancing with himself. His co-sponsors include two local lawmakers: Meridian Republican Marv Hagedorn and Emmett Republican Steven Thayn.
Predictably, the dance floor is packed. Critics, such as state Democratic Party spokeswoman Julie Fanselow, trot out Web site links that suggest Harwood's memorial is part of a national state sovereignty movement. And reporters spend way too much time and space on these memorials — while lamenting the lack of attention to matters of substance.
Yes, Pogo, I have met the enemy. And he is me.
I write about this one in an attempt to illustrate a bigger point.
The defining issue of this legislative session could be how (or if) the state spends some $1 billion of federal economic stimulus money. Do we use it to help offset a historic $62 million in cuts to K-12 (amounting to $225 for every kid in public school)? Do we use it to help create or save jobs in a state losing jobs at a dizzying pace? Or do we petulantly refuse the money — while conveniently forgetting the $1.9 billion in federal money Idaho is spending this budget year?
This is an important debate. I don't see the Harwood memorial as a meaningful part. It's just a distraction.
But we love distractions, and we in the press are no different. When the music plays, we get dancing feet. We're ritualistic like that.