The Great Statehouse Standoff of 2007 is history. A compromise has been reached to scale back the expansion that was already under way when Gov. Butch Otter halted work two weeks ago. Otter has made his point: Idaho government will not grow under his watch.
But let's remember why the Statehouse expansion was necessary in the first place: Idaho is indeed growing, and how, whether Otter likes it or not. Our population, barely more than a million at our state centennial in 1990, is now nearing 1.5 million people. With half again as many people in two decades, many more citizens want to come to the Statehouse to testify at committee hearings, or simply get a firsthand glimpse of government at work. Many times, their government must turn them away, as crowds congregate in the hall outside hearing rooms, unable to find seats. That's wrong, and the expansion was meant to do something about it.
The scaled-back expansion will still help, and Otter can't be faulted for trying to save the taxpayers' money. But it's debatable how much the downsized expansion will save in the long run - and, more troubling, Otter's stand may be just another example of his penchant for dismissing the public's desires and needs. He didn't want to debate Jerry Brady. He didn't want to sign his oath of office in public. And he apparently places pinching pennies over the right of citizens to observe their government in an atmosphere that feels welcoming and accommodating to all who care to visit.
Finally, it's also worth questioning whether the dampening effect Otter's move had on the legislature was worth the time and expense. This session has so far been marked by a lack of momentum, largely because legislators were distracted by the standoff. And for what? As Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett told the Idaho Statesman, "It seems like we did a lot of huffing and puffing for not a lot of change."