Opinion: Meet the people, please

The Legislature has adjourned (sort of) for this year. Now it is time for our leaders to come home and talk with all their constituents.

Idaho Senate Chaplain Doug Armstrong recently published a letter to the editor in which he described how his perceptions of politicians changed during the legislative session. He found that each senator is “unique and unduplicated and had their own personal journey.” He describes senators with words like “honesty, integrity and thoughtfulness.” Mr. Armstrong achieves his perceptions by seeing elected officials every day, hearing their concerns and learning about their families and life histories. He recognizes the personal faces of public personalities.

One wonders if these same legislators have made a similar shift in perspective. Many in our state are hurting. When the Legislature rejects federal funding to support early childhood education, it will impact young families and will stunt the potential of the most vulnerable of our children. When the Legislature places fear of a theory about race and history in front of fully funding higher education, it will stifle ideas that challenge the critical thinking skills of students. When laws are passed that take away Idaho’s traditional means of influencing state government through the initiative process, it will further disconnect and alienate those who want to get involved in civic change. As a Democrat, these are my perceptions of recent legislative actions.

Mr. Armstrong reminds us to think of the person first when beginning a debate. When people become classes (left-wingers, liberals, etc.) and not people first, they become mere caricatures. Real people with real concerns become soundbite snapshots and one-line summaries. It becomes too easy to discount alternative perspectives. One need only survey recent opinion pages to sense a disconnect between what is happening in Boise and how those actions are perceived in our community.

Now that the political season is winding down, it is time for those who represent us to return home and begin a conversation that seeks out all perspectives. When we take the time to learn about the honesty, integrity and unique nature of everyone in our communities, perhaps a new understanding will emerge. Perhaps our values are not all that different when loyalties to an ideology are stripped away. Could it be that what people on both the left and on the right want is safety at home, life in a supportive community and unfettered opportunities for our children?

There will be many opportunities over the next several months to engage with citizens from all walks of life. How about a walk in the Idaho Falls Pride Parade? What about establishing community to discuss citizen concerns? Could elected officials make time for local office hours to speak one-on-one with citizens, say in a local coffee shop? It is through these conversations that perspectives can change. Like Doug Armstrong, we will begin to see people for who they truly are.

Todd DeVries is the state committeeman for the Bonneville Democratic Central Committee.