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Rep. John Gannon

"You've got to be involved to have a responsive government."


John Gannon vividly recalls the day he moved to Boise:

"June 6, 1976. It was the day after the Teton Dam burst," Gannon told Boise Weekly. "I had traveled to almost every state in the union in the summer following my junior year of college, and I fell in love with Idaho."

Gannon has been practicing law in the Gem State, primarily civil cases, ever since.

"I've represented quite a few businesses, but I've probably represented several thousand people, easily," he said.

His representation grew significantly in 2012, when he was elected to the Idaho House from Legislative District 17--Boise's Central Bench.

"It's been very, very interesting here for the past few weeks," said Gannon, sitting down to share a cup of coffee with BW at the Statehouse cafeteria.

And how.

Gannon is a member of the House State Affairs Committee, which has seen some of the most controversial legislation in recent memory, covering guns on campuses, so-called "religious freedom" and Gannon's own bill, which targets faith healing.

Practically every Idaho legislator insisted at the beginning of the 2014 session that education was going to be the primary issue this year. What happened?

Some people like to talk the talk, but when it comes to pulling out their wallet, they don't do it.

It goes without saying that appropriate funding for education will require significant revenue streams. How does Idaho get there?

The obvious answer is to quit passing tax cuts. Last year, I voted against two tax cuts and I got quite a bit of feedback asking how I could have voted no. Let me tell you, if we had stopped bowing to lobbyists' pressure for tax breaks, we would have the appropriate money for education today.

Have you ever reconciled why you're a Democrat in Idaho?

My grandmother on my father's side was a very strong, tough, opinionated Democrat, while my grandfather on my mom's side was a staunch conservative. I've probably listened to both sides my entire life. But I've always felt that Democrats are more responsive to the views and concerns of Americans as a whole.

But how can you be successful as a super-minority at the Idaho Statehouse?

The minority can be effective if we have our arguments well thought out and organized.

Talk to me a bit about the Rep. Lynn Luker's "religious freedom" bill, which triggered more than three hours of opposition.

We had more than 500 people show up for our House State Affairs Committee.

Do you have a sense of where his legislation came from?

Look, we all need to live together. And these divisive bills aren't doing anybody any good. What we really need to be doing is adding the words ["sexual orientation" and "gender identity"] to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

What is the State Affairs Committee chairman's argument for not holding an Add the Words hearing?

I honestly don't know. I fundamentally believe that the Legislature should be open to all ideas. I voted the other day to print a bill that wants to nullify the EPA. I told the sponsor, "I'm going to hammer you," but I still think he deserves a public hearing.

Let's talk about your bill, HB 458, which wants to lift protections for some parents who use faith healing or prayer as their primary treatment for children who may later die.

All this bill says is that if your child dies or suffers a permanent disability, you could be responsible. You don't get an exemption because of your faith.

What would be the penalty?

It would be a felony. You and I already raise our kids under the same law. The only people who haven't are living under a faith-healing exception.

And it's my understanding that there have been a number of children who have died in the Marsing area, where their parents were members of the Followers of Christ, and autopsies revealed that the children died of treatable causes.

That would be an example of why the law is necessary.

Nampa Republican Rep. Christy Perry said your bill tramples on religious beliefs.

Your religious beliefs end when some kind of harm begins, especially with a child.

So, what's the future of your bill? I haven't seen it yet on a committee hearing agenda.

I keep hearing that my bill is very reasonable but, yes, there is a bit of resistance. I made some changes to give some comfort to other representatives. I'll let you guess if there's going to be a hearing anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the guns on campuses bill now comes before that same committee. It's important to note that the chairman of the same committee in the Senate cut off testimony before hearing from some key stakeholders.

It's not right for people with expertise, such as law enforcement, not to be able to testify. That's very wrong. Secondly, I have a lot of respect for the universities to control their own campuses. This is a bill in search of a problem.

Can you appreciate the plight of citizens who make their way to the Statehouse, testify before a committee in droves, and yet watch a committee move in the opposite direction?

You're not always going to win. But you've got to be involved if you want a responsive government.