Over the past several days, I've had the opportunity to listen to comments made by two different groups of people. One group left me feeling inspired on the one hand while the other left me shaking my head in utter disbelief.
Let me dwell on the positives first.
On Saturday, I had the distinct privilege of listening to four high school students from across Idaho reflect on the importance of the U.S. Constitution as part of a yearly speech competition hosted by the American Legion. It was the first time in quite a while that Mountain Home played host to this state-level event.
Those in the audience were treated to some of the finest presentations from the state's top motivational speakers. Their presentations came off as extremely well polished, and it was clear that each of them spent considerable time researching their subject and putting their thoughts down on paper.
And once they had perfected their presentations, all of them spent what I can only assume was many hours rehearsing their speeches until they were able to recite them near-verbatim. Take it from someone who's done that countless times myself, that's no small feat.
What caught my attention was how each student came up with their own unique perspectives on the U.S. Constitution and how it continues to guide this nation. There were a few times they discussed parts of the document that I had never pondered, including the protections against allowing one branch of government from gaining too much authority over the others.
That was just a start. Each student then had to put together a separate and shorter speech on a topic they had very little time to prepare. But in each case, they stood before the judges and spoke so eloquently that it almost seemed they had spent hours practicing versus having just a few short minutes.
I could only wish our state lawmakers had spent the same amount of time these students had invested before they stood before the legislature and started speaking. The most recent gaff involves Rep. Pete Nielsen, who represents Mountain Home and surrounding communities.
It involves a statement he made as lawmakers debated plans to offer free ultrasounds to women considering having an abortion. I cringed after learning that he thought that rape and incest rarely caused women to become pregnant.
"I'm of the understanding that in many cases of rape it does not involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the incident," he said. "That may be true with incest a little bit."
As most of us later learned, Nielsen apparently based that statement on medical information that was obviously many years out of date. However, the cat was out of the proverbial bag, and he ended up facing a huge backlash from people in this state and others as well, all of them condemning what he said.
Perhaps if the lawmaker had done a lot more homework, he wouldn't have made that mistake. It's likely he would've had access to other reports that contradicted the one he used.
Now in a matter of fairness, he later apologized for the comment. However, the damage was already done, and it remains to be seen if this will have any repercussions against him at the voting booth this May.
I'd like to say this was an isolated case involving our lawmakers, but it isn't. About a year ago, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, faced heavy criticism after he asked if it was possible to conduct a gynecological exam by swallowing a camera.
The comment was captured in all its glory when he spoke at a hearing involving an abortion-related issue. When confronted, Barbieri later said he asked the question in jest to make a point.
So why was no one laughing at his "joke?"
During the same legislative session, another shooting-from-the-hip comment nearly cost the state $46 million in federal funding. Republican state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll told a committee that an international treaty that would make it easier for single parents worldwide to collect child-support payments would somehow allow Islamic law in other nation's to influence American courts.
What made it worse was a majority of state senators agreed with what she said and struck down the agreement. It doesn't appear that any of them even bothered to do their homework before rendering their verdict.
With millions of dollars handing in the balance, Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter recalled the state legislature back to Boise for an emergency session. In the end, calmer heads prevailed and the law moved forward.
With our lawmakers continuing to meet at the state capitol, I can only hope that these gaffs won't continue to make the headlines. With the state primaries just two months away, anything these legislators say can and will likely be used against them by someone with a bone to pick, whether it's a political opponent or a member of the public that's growing tired of the "business as usual" attitude in our state and federal governments.
If I had one word of advice for our lawmakers, I'd simply point them to the four students that met in Mountain Home on Saturday. Each of these teens seemed to have a better grasp of the U.S. Constitution than our legislatures. I'm sure all four of them could teach our lawmakers a thing or two.
At least these students did all their homework before they started speaking.
-- Brian S. Orban