In an earlier blog post, I asked aloud what a nonprofit group hopes to accomplish by squiring Idaho legislators around Turkey for 10 days.
Well, nothing, exactly. Or so says one of the legislators on the trip.
“They certainly didn’t ask for anything,” Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said in an interview Tuesday.
After the Turkey trip first hit the news — when state Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, went on his Facebook page to report Idahoans were unhurt in a fatal bombing in the Turkish capital of Ankara — the public scrutiny and online comment traffic have focused on the group that footed much of the bill.
While lawmakers covered their airfare to Turkey, the Pacifica Institute picked up the rest. The Turkish-American group paid for travel within Turkey, meals and lodging — although the accommodations included some nights in hotels and some nights staying with Turkish business people.
Hill likens Pacifica to the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobby that, in its current iteration, represents the state’s big business interests. Pacifica’s primary concern is the way this Muslim nation is perceived in a post-9/11 world.
Said Hill: “They want to provide understanding.”
This group is going to no small expense in that regard. Ten lawmakers were on this recent trip: Hill; McGee; Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls; Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls; Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa; Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding; Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston; Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum; and Sen. John Tippetts, R-Montpelier. And, said Hill, at least three other lawmakers went to Turkey in the spring: Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot; Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello; and Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston.
So, that means more than a tenth of the Legislature has traveled to Turkey this year. It’s a regular Turkey Caucus. Do with that observation what you will.
And just as I question what’s in this for Pacifica, I’m not exactly sure what’s in this for Idaho.
The lawmakers tried to nudge Turkish businesses to buy Idaho products — an understandable sentiment, since Turkey doesn’t even crack Idaho’s list of top 25 export markets. But this was a political delegation, not a trade mission.
The lawmakers may have left with a better appreciation of the value of education, Hill said, seeing its impact on Turkey’s thriving economy. That’s nice, but are we seriously at the stage where Idaho politicians have to travel halfway around the world to learn the value of schools?
I don’t smell a scandal here — and that’s not just because Hill is as earnest a lawmaker as they come. But when a group purchases access to politicians to “provide understanding,” that’s never going to be the stuff of best practices.