By MIKE BLACKBIRD
Special to The Press
Not too long ago Shoshone County was the richest county in Idaho due primarily to a vibrant mining industry. The county was also home to the second largest employer in Idaho, the Bunker Hill Mining Company.
Legislators representing Shoshone County had a place at all the tables regulating the political life of the state. As Shoshone county native political columnist Chuck Malloy recently noted, today Shoshone County is Idaho’s version of Siberia.
It suffers from “absentee representation” in the Idaho Legislature because the bi-partisan redistricting commission failed the voters, especially those in the county I was so proud to represent from 1986 to 1992. The commission arbitrarily concluded that since Shoshone, Clearwater, and Idaho counties are contiguous geographically, it was convenient to put all three counties into one legislative district.
The commission failed to realize, or chose to ignore, that if a legislator such as Rep. Paul Shepherd (R-Riggins) was to schedule a meeting with the Shoshone County commissioners in Wallace he would have to travel close to five hours and 255 miles through four other legislative districts to keep his appointment.
Considering time, distance and the lack of legislative expense budgets, traveling to Wallace to meet with Shoshone County’s commissioners, as well as the five mayors of the county’s cities would be a rare, if ever, occurrence for any of District 7’s legislators.
Bear in mind that city and county governments are significantly impacted by the state bureaucracy and the legislature. The virtual nonexistence of personal acquaintance with their legislators creates a difficult circumstance with the prospect of legislation that impacts budgets.
Shoshone County is further hampered by the simple fact that none of three District 7 legislators need embrace county voters to be elected. In essence, Shoshone County has virtually no legislative presence.Taxation without representation is a reality.
Rural counties, such as Shoshone County, are further disadvantaged by the fact that Idaho, as the rest of the nation, is becoming more urbanized. A case in point; Boise and Ada County have 24 legislators and due to an inattentive bi-partisan redistricting commission, Shoshone County essentially has none.
During the Constitutional Convention in the hot, humid summer of 1787, a contentious debate revolved around members of Congress being based on population, giving the more populous states a majority of the members of Congress at the expense of the less populous states such as Delaware and Rhode Island.
A compromise was reached to regulate the power of the House of Representatives by giving equal power to every state in the Senate. This was accomplished by allowing each state two senators with one vote each, which counteracts the fact that the number of representatives per state is based on size and population of the state.
As James Madison noted, “the government ought to be founded on a mixture of principles of proportional and equal representation.” In this manner each state has equal power in the Senate, which in turn protects smaller states from being overpowered by larger states. What this means is that the House of Representatives votes to pass a law or bill which is then voted for in the Senate. This leads to laws that cater to both the state and the people.
Keep in mind that California is the most populous U.S. state and as a result has the most representation in the United States House of Representatives, with 53 representatives. If representation in Congress was based solely on population, might thirsty California look longingly to well-watered Idaho to replenish its shrinking reservoirs? With two U.S. senators on equal footing with California’s two senators, Idaho’s 1.7 million citizens are shielded from exploitation by 39 million Californians.
A similar question might be posed where Idaho’s more urbanized counties, with an overwhelming number of legislators, might pass legislation at the expense of the state’s rural counties. While critical roads and bridges in rural counties disintegrate, not so the roads and bridges of Ada County, which are up to date and modern.
At one time in the state’s history, each of Idaho’s 44 counties had a state senator, population not being a factor. Today, representation in the Idaho Legislature is based totally on population.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The U.S. Congress, per the compromise orchestrated by James Madison at the Constitutional Convention settled on a House, based on population with every member up for election every two years; and a Senate with every state having two senators designed to protect smaller states from ravenous business practices, and a staggered schedule with each senator holding his or her six-year term.
The Supreme Court’s “one person/one vote” mandate requires at least one house has a population base basis. Idaho could leave in place the 35 districts yet still have an Upper House¸ the State Senate, comprised of one senator from each county. In this manner no voter would go totally unrepresented, but instead would be represented by at least one neighbor from the same county. There would be a renewal of that vital concept of taxation with representation.
Regardless of the course the next redistricting commission chooses, Shoshone County deserves better than just being on the way up I-90 on one’s way to Montana.
Mike Blackbird is a Kellogg native and now a retired Post Falls resident. He served three terms as flotarial state senator, representing the five northern counties from 1986 to 1992.