What was supposed to be a simple chair-warming exercise for Democrat Kurt Douglas became an education in partisan politics in the waning hours of the Legislature last week.
Douglas was taking the place of Sen. Elliot Werk, a Boise Democrat, who was away on a previous commitment. Among the things debated during Douglas' short term in the Idaho Senate was the massive GARVEE transportation plan, which lists nearly $250 million in road construction projects, many of them focused here in the Treasure Valley.
But not at first.
At one point, majority Republican legislators left a project off the to-do list just because it was in Werk's district. The move was revealed first by Betsy Russell, a reporter for the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review, in her popular legislative blog, www.eyeonboise.com.
"There was one of those six projects that was removed altogether," said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, a Republican from Rupert, according to Russell. "Why? Because the senator and the representatives from that district were from the wrong political party."
In a later interview, Cameron said he was pointing out that a process with statewide relevance--road repairs--had been dragged into the political realm where it didn't belong.
"We should not be identifiying projects based on who has the political authority of the day," Cameron told BW. "There were some that tried to portray that the original bill was put together by the experts. But it was put together by politicians to try to benefit politicians."
Cameron's point may have helped kill that version of GARVEE before the Senate ultimately ratified a new version of the bill.
But the experience left Douglas, an engineer at Micron, reeling.
"It was fascinating," he said. His perception, he said, was that the Senate contained some "high-roaders" who want such projects managed with the highest level of ethical soundness. Then, he said, there are "low-roaders" who, he said, "just wanted to get it done." He admitted, he said, to feeling a bit like a low-roader himself, when he saw that the one project in his district, a partial redevelopment of Interstate 84, might be left out because of party politics.
Werk said he wasn't surprised by the action. He's an outspoken member of the minority party, and helped two Democrats gain seats in his Boise Bench-area district: Rep. Bill Killen and Rep. Sue Chew. Still, he said, he was happy with the relationship he had with Rep. Frank Henderson, a Republican from Post Falls who helped bring GARVEE to fruition this year.
It's not the first time that Republicans have targeted Werk. In the last election, one of the candidates that received the most donations from leaders in the Idaho Legislature was Tim Flaherty, the Republican who opposed Werk.