By Tom Luna – Chairman of the Idaho State Republican Party
Who sets public policy in Idaho? Who determines whether to close businesses, schools, require masks or face coverings, and decide how essential issues should be addressed? In the United States, and in Idaho, our constitutional republic clearly identifies who sets public policy – elected officials. In less than three months, we have an election on Tuesday, November 3, where the people decide who the elected officials will be that are making these decisions. However, some believe policy should not be set by elected officials, but rather experts in the field, whose role is to advise, not govern.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some Idaho GOP lawmakers rightfully expressed concern on how decisions and public policy is being shaped. Idaho’s district health boards have exercised unchecked authority in setting policies that impact social gatherings, religious expression, and the opening of small businesses and schools. In the pursuit to enact sound public policy, some GOP lawmakers disagree with the recommendations of these health boards, and that disagreement is well within the right of our policy makers.
Recently, Idaho Democrats and local media outlets have unnecessarily scrutinized Idaho GOP lawmakers for the simple and foundational principle that elected officials set these policies, not our unelected experts. Good public policy is passed by considering the feedback of all Idahoans. This includes constituents, key stakeholders, business leaders, and yes, also expert opinions. After listening, it is then the role of our duly elected representatives to set public policy in Idaho as this is the role they were elected to do.
Let’s be clear – no lawmaker supports ignoring expert testimony on any issue. In fact, our elected officials consult expert opinions routinely, and it is fundamental to the policy-making process. However, expert opinions are one of many facets our legislators utilize to develop effective policy.
It is a dangerous precedent to allow unelected officials, such as public health boards, unilateral authority in determining public policy. Positions entrusted with the power for policy change are elected at all levels including legislators, city council, and even the local school boards. It is for this reason that GOP lawmakers rightfully supported stripping the public health districts of their unaccountable authority. In response to this unchecked authority, Representative Ryan Kerby said, “[Voters] have no recourse. They have no voice.”
Senator Thayn responded, “We listen to the advice of our experts in Idaho, but it is the responsibility of elected officials to set policy and listen to the people. These unelected officials sitting on our public health boards do not answer to the citizens they represent, and by allowing these officials to set policy, it shifts the balance of power from the people to unelected officials. This shift of power undermines the very foundation of our republic.”
Our founding fathers created a constitution that assures whoever makes decisions is held accountable to the people. These decisions are safeguarded by a system of checks and balances. It is not the proper role of our duly elected representatives to take a backseat in the policy-making process in lieu of the expert opinion of unaccountable officials. These experts exist not to govern but to advise.
It is this philosophy, of wise governance, birthed from the people, advised by the experts, and determined with the interests of all constituents in mind, that is at the core of our Party. The Republican Party trusts the people to weigh the facts and make decisions.