Lame ducks in flight? How Idaho legislators spend their summer vacation

UPDATED, 4:50 p.m., with comments from Denney.

In May, North Idaho Republican voters elected to fire tax-dodging state Rep. Phil Hart.

Nonetheless, House Speaker Lawerence Denney has elected to send the lame-duck Hart to a national legislative conference — on your nickel.

No, it doesn’t make a bit of sense to me either.

Yet this week, Hart is one of five Idaho legislators attending an American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Salt Lake City. Denney specifically approved sending Hart, R-Hayden, and another of the House’s loyal conservative foot soldiers, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens.

Spending taxpayer money to send any lawmaker to an ALEC conference is questionable enough. It would be naive to consider this an educational conference or a fact-finding mission, given ALEC’s politics and objectives. The group exists to advance a Wal-Mart approach to state public policy, offering up template legislation on pet topics such as privatizing K-12 education and fighting the federal health care law.

So I’ll give credit to Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, ALEC’s Idaho state chairperson. She’s in Salt Lake City this week, paying her own way. Best practices at work.

As a taxpayer, I'm not thrilled about picking up Barbieri's tab, but at least he won his primary. Should he prevail in the November general election, he’ll be back in the Statehouse in 2013 — for good or ill. That means he’d be positioned to act on ALEC’s marching orders — again, for good or ill. I don't think this is a wise use of taxpayer money, but I can at least understand the argument for the expenditure.

But Hart? While technically still a member of the Legislature, he is essentially running out the clock until new lawmakers take office in December. Barring a special session, which is unlikely, the Legislature isn’t going to reconvene until January. So what good does it serve to send Hart on a taxpayer-funded going-away trip?

Denney says there is value in having even outgoing lawmakers hear about pending issues — and says he tries to be fair about travel. He approves one trip per year for each member of his caucus. “I really don’t look at whether they’re retired or not,” he said Wednesday. Denney said he wasn’t sure, but he believed Hart requested the trip to the ALEC conference after his May 15 GOP primary loss.

Admittedly, Hart makes an easy target for commentators — even an easier one than the power-grabbing yet gaffe-prone Denney. (Note to the speaker: If taxpayer-funded road trips are an instrument to shore up support for future House leadership elections, it’s probably a smart move to dole out the goods to colleague who’ll still be in office to vote for you.)

But this isn’t an isolated occurrence.

When the Seattle-based Pacific Northwest Economic Region assembled state and Canadian provincial legislators in Saskatchewan earlier this month, retiring Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, was one of the Idaho lawmakers dispatched on leadership’s behalf. Retiring Rep. Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, the longtime chairman of the House Resources and Conservation Committee, also made the trip and was a conference speaker. Both are eligible for reimbursement from the state, Denney said.

So where should the state draw the line? It seems clear to me. Don’t spend taxpayer money covering travel bills for lame-duck legislators — whether they are retiring of their own accord, or whether they’ve been retired by the voters back home. If these conferences have legitimate educational value, send legislators who are apt to be in office for at least another two-year term.

This is, I presume, the way most private employers spend their limited training/professional development budgets. They look to build up their bench and their institutional knowledge, by investing in the next round of up-and-comers.

But there I go again, expecting the Legislature to live by its beloved “Let’s-run-government-like-a-business” mantra.

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they will come up with a solution for the feral pig problem.

Would this be considered a Republican pork barrel proposal

Would sending this unemployed Republican their answer to Idaho unemployment?

I think there is a difference

Even if a lawmaker is not going to be around next session, I think it is ok to send them if they are actually representing Idaho in negotiations, votes, policy development, etc. Until the end of the year, they are still representing Idaho. If it is important for an Idaho perspective to be represented at the meeting, I think an argument can be made for sending them.

However, if they are just going for their own personal education, the taxpayer should not be footing the bill.

Do you

honestly believe that Hart is a good representative of policy development for Idaho? A thief, tax dodger, is what you call a good representative? Sorry, can't go along with this piece of Denney sponsered trash.

Absolutely not. I think Hart is an embarrassment.

I was speaking in general about lame duck legislators traveling for meetings.


KR, this is not just a Legislature issue. State & local governtment agencies do similar stuff all the time.

WASTE your tax dollars.
It's part of the govt way.

If YOU and liberals want to give them more money in your tax dollars they WILL find a way to spend it.

Want more tax dollars to the schools?
Find out how they decide who and where they send employess for conferences and training... and you will see they waste money.

"Last year the conference was here and we didn't spend as much money, so this year we have that money to spend to send MORE people this year in CDA".

I think it's naive of you, KR, to think corporatation run any differently.

Maybe you can call Bank of America to follow-up on that idea?

If no one returns your call, you could also try Kodak, MF Global, Lear Corp, Lee Enterprises, or for a the personal touch, track down Gary Michael or Bill Agee (a son of a former Idaho legislator).

Sorry, you can't blame this on the liberals

Look at the offenders....all members of the GOP. If Idaho is wasting money on this, don't blame the liberals.


Seriously BC?
When a school district manager/principal/superindendent puts their budget together you want to try to make it an R vs D ?

Despite KR's agenda, this has nothing to do with politics.
It is human nature to spend other people's money frivolously.
OPM baby!

This is not a liberal issue.

This is not a liberal issue. These are the republicans sending people on trips, and the article makes it clear that Denney doles out the trips to members of his conference (i.e., republicans).

Crooks and Liars

Free vacations, political appointments, cushy state jobs, you name it, it is doled out to the party faithful by the powers that be here in Idaho and they could care less who objects because they know they have the upper hand no matter what. Lose your primary? You will be given a nice appointed position in state government, or you may join a megabuck lobbying firm. Create legal problems for the state? No worries, your lawsuit will be covered by state hired attorneys and the settlement will come from the general fund. The Idaho Republican party is so entrenched and drunk with power that they can and do get away with virtually anything short of murder. The legislature not only refuses to entertain the notion of new ethics legislation, but they have also repeatedly weakened the rules already in place. The fix is in people, and the goal is to live the high life on your dime. From where I sit, it looks like they are doing a pretty good job of it. In fact, guaranteeing the personal comfort of themselves and their cronies is about the only job Idaho government has done competently for several years now.

Kinda reminds me of the 9th Circus Court of Appeals spending..

$1M to have their conference in Maui next month. Lack of judgement isn't something that only affects some Republicans in Idaho.

Denney is like Denny's

Let me rearrange these:

“I really don’t [care] whether they’re retired or not,” 
[I] approve one trip per year for each member of [my] caucus.

-- means I really don't care about spending taxpayer dollars.

But if the taxpayers want to have an election to decide about spending their own dollars, he won't allow that to happen.