We recently attended the Western Legislative Academy in Colorado Springs, organized by the non-partisan Council of State Governments. This intensive training session included four participants from each state who were relatively new to their roles. House members David Cannon, Marco Erickson, and Chenele Dixon, all Republicans, and Democrat State Senator Rick Just represented Idaho.
The striking lack of partisanship immediately caught our attention when we began our training. While party affiliations eventually emerged during the sessions, it was never a major focus. We were a diverse group of individuals seeking to enhance our legislative skills for the betterment of our constituents.
Throughout the sessions, we frequently worked in pairs or small groups, constantly switching tables to ensure we had the opportunity to meet everyone. Although hot-button issues were not always on the agenda, they often challenged our assumptions when discussed.
During meals, conversations sometimes delved into polarizing topics like wolf reintroduction or mandatory COVID vaccinations. Surprisingly, when participants later ‘voted’ on other controversial issues, assumptions we’d made based on a single issue were frequently proven incorrect. Western legislators with strong support for education vouchers might also advocate for mandatory vaccinations for children, and those against wolf reintroduction might favor assisted suicide.
A shared experience among super-minority legislators was evident. Regardless of party affiliation, those in the minority expressed concerns about radical legislation proposed by extremes on both ends of the political spectrum.
Numerous invitations from legislators to visit their states came our way, again, with little thought about party affiliation.
The Idaho delegates to the Western Legislative Academy found much common ground, though labels could have divided us. We were from different districts, different zip codes, and different generations. We could be parsed by gender, party affiliation, and work experience. Yet there was much common ground.
As we approach the 2024 Idaho Legislative session, we, the Idaho colleagues who shared this experience, carry with us the lessons learned. We intend to look beyond party labels and recognize the individuals striving to serve their constituents to the best of their abilities.