Political Scrapbook: Elected Officials I Have Known

Since I spent four years in the Idaho state legislature and now handle government relations as part of my job I’ve had the opportunity to meet many wonderful public servants: Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, US Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Washington Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, and many others. A few encounters stand out.

Geraldine Ferraro’s hand: As in, I got to shake her hand when she was the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1984.

I was a volunteer on Booth Gardner’s run for governor that year (which he won). Booth’s volunteers helped organize things when she came to Spokane on a campaign stop. We all had to submit our Social Security numbers for a security check, which I thought was very cool.

After a long, exhausting whirlwind event that’s all a blur in my memory now, the volunteers lined up. She worked the line, giving each of us the barest tips of her fingers. I didn’t think it was much of a handshake for a politician, but somebody fortunately explained to me that by that time (probably 10 p.m.), her hand must have been absolutely raw from all the hands she’d had to shake.

Meeting Steve Symms. It was 1990. I was all of 27 years old and I was running for the Idaho State House of Representatives. Symms was in his second term as US Senator for Idaho and he came to North Idaho College for some event.

Afterward I went up to shake his hand and told him a story.

“When I was a little kid apparently the very first political event I ever went to was a fundraiser for you in Lewiston that my parents took me to. My mom still has your apple cookbook somewhere.” (Symms’ slogan was “Take a bite out of big government”; he defeated statesman Frank Church, who had actively opposed the Vietnam War.)

He smiled. I finished my story.

“But I turned out okay. I’m a Democrat and I’m running for state legislature.”

Boy, was I ever a smart-aleck.

Bill Sali and the wool suit. I entered the Idaho State House of Representatives with the 1990 election, at the same time as Bill Sali of Kuna. We were poles apart, as we quickly came to discover through some protracted and probably painful-to-observe ideological debates.

A new mom, I had discovered that Idaho’s child care licensing standards included absolutely nothing about first aid/CPR training. A bill on the Senate side sought to remedy this and to lower the number of children one provider could care for. The ratio was then at 12:1, meaning one provider could watch 12 children of any age. As I described it to people, this meant that when the fire alarm went off, the provider was supposed to tuck six babies under each arm and sprint for the exit.

I sponsored a similar measure on the House side, tackling only the first aid/CPR issue, and took my new baby Katie to the committee hearing. She would have been all of about three months old, since she was born six days after I was elected on my 28th birthday.

No one was tracking ER visits from child care facilities that might be prevented if child care providers knew first aid. I had done my best to tackle the statistical analysis, putting together the number of slots in licensed facilities and the ER visits for preschool-aged children in Ada County, then extrapolating based on population percentages.

As I stood there wearing my favorite electric blue wool suit, jiggling Katie in my arms, I went through my rationale and the numbers.

The committee grilled me for some time. Temperature and humidity rose inside the suit.

It came time to wrap up and I trotted out a line my mother used to put problems in perspective. When you think about most things you’re facing, ask yourself, “Will little children die as a result of this?” 

In most cases the answer is a pretty definitive no. In this case, I told the committee, the answer might well be yes, and as a mother, I wasn’t willing to let that stand.

Rep. Sali spoke up with one last question. “How many children?”

“How many does it take?!” I snapped back.

Committee chair Rex Hansen, a wonderful moderate Republican from Idaho Falls, called a halt at that point.

The bill was held in committee on an 8-7 vote. Chairman Hansen voted for it. Rep. Sali voted against it. I cried in the bathroom (it was my first bill) and vowed never again to wear a wool suit to present a bill.

Sali ultimately went on to represent the First District of Idaho in Congress for one term 2006-2008, where he introduced a bill to repeal the law of gravity. He became the first incumbent Idaho Republican to lose his congressional re-election bid since 1952.

I and other advocates for improved standards in state-licensed child care facilities didn't give up; the requirement for first-aid/CPR training passed successfully when I served in the Senate and is still in the rules today. The ratio is still 12:1.

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