The daily life of a local statesman and what his fellow lawmakers want you to know
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IDAHO FALLS – If there’s one thing Representative Marco Erickson wishes more voters in his district understood, it’s that there’s a formal process by which legislation is passed, which requires a lot of collaboration with legislators throughout the state.
Erickson is just 9 months into his term for District 33, Seat B, which covers the “doughnut hole” of Idaho Falls between Anderson, Skyline and portions of Sunnyside Road. It’s a seat the 42-year-old Republican lawmaker inherited after defeating Bryan Zollinger in last November’s election.
Since taking office, the political newcomer says he’s been swarmed with calls and emails daily, many of which express concerns related to COVID-19 and want him to solve the problem.
“Individually, I can’t really do anything. There’s a process for everything we do, so just having a value that aligns with (your beliefs) doesn’t lead to a new law being put in place,” Erickson tells EastIdahoNews.com. “There are 105 legislators (in Idaho) and we have to work with all of them, including their values and personalities and the committees they serve on, to get legislation through.”
Erickson notes there are some elected officials who have a staff to help them. That’s not the case for state legislators. And if you’re a first-time politician, there’s a lot of on-the-job training. Understanding state laws and policies requires a lot of research on his part and he says his legislative colleagues have been very helpful in teaching him the ropes.
Erickson had a lot to deal with right out of the gate with the longest legislative session in Idaho’s history wrapping up in May. It’s been an ongoing process learning how to juggle legislative duties while running a nonprofit agency in Idaho Falls and making time for church and family responsibilities.
“We didn’t expect the session to go into May (this year),” Erickson says. “That was hard on our entire team because when I’m at the capital for 15 hour days, I can’t focus my energy on the stuff back home.”
His work life is often interrupted by legislative tasks, sometimes requiring him to travel on short notice. If you’re not in a position to have an erratic schedule, running for the Legislature is not something Erickson recommends.
He says it’s been surprising to learn how much time and energy the job requires.
Erickson is up at 6 a.m. every day and often works until midnight or 1 a.m. the following morning and he only brings home an annual income of $18,000 for his efforts. Idaho does not pay its Legislators very much.
In spite of this, Erickson says he loves the experience and it’s an honor to serve.
“Every day is different and it doesn’t really feel like work because I really enjoy it,” he says. “I look at it as a calling. I’ve dedicated my entire life to serving people. Money isn’t what motivates me, (but) making a difference in the world is (what motivates me).”
‘You don’t have to talk to me that way’
Erickson’s lifestyle is similar to the other 104 legislators throughout the state. He says he’s learned a lot from his fellow statesmen, most of whom are good and decent people who, regardless of their political party or leadership style, ran for office in hopes of making a positive difference in the state they love.
“The people that I work with, by and large, come with the highest of intentions to represent and protect people’s individual liberty,” says Wendy Horman, a Republican Representative for the west side of Bonneville County.
But in every legislative district, there are people who assume the opposite is true.
Media headlines often portray politicians as toxic, power-hungry zealots who want to control people’s lives. While there definitely are politicians like that, this narrative has a tendency to perpetuate a false idea that all those in public office are toxic people.
As a result, some voters will sometimes resort to being unnecessarily rude and disrespectful towards local elected officials.
Representative James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, says restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have sparked a lot of “over the top” anger from hasty voters in his district. Though he understands the responsibility he has to his constituents and welcomes their input and feedback, he says it’s a lot more effective if you’re polite and civil.
“When you call and demand and tell me that you’re my boss and I work for you and that I need to do what you tell me, we’re not going to have a very good conversation. You don’t have to talk to me that way and my guess is that most legislators don’t enjoy being talked to like that,” says Ruchti. “If your legislator talks down to you and doesn’t treat you appropriately, that’s a problem, too.”
If there are concerns about policy or potential unbecoming behavior from your legislator, Ruchti says it’s ok to ask questions. But make sure you have all the facts before you just call and yell at them.
Erickson also discourages the use of formulaic, cookie-cutter emails to communicate because they will just get deleted. If you want to have a productive conversation with an elected official, Erickson says the best approach is to simply be kind and speak from your heart.
Horman says people’s personal experiences about how a certain law is affecting them is particularly insightful in helping her to know what course of action to take.
“You just never know the impact you might be able to have by reaching out to a legislator and (explaining) how a certain law isn’t working or could be improved,” she says.
Being informed and getting involved in local government
Local government typically has a greater impact on your life than the federal government, Erickson says, and many people do not pay enough attention to it. If you don’t participate, your elected officials can’t represent you.
To those interested in being more informed and involved, Jerald Raymond, a former Republican representative for portions of Butte, Clark, Jefferson and Fremont Counties, offers a suggestion.
“It’s so easy nowadays to access the actual piece of legislation. If you’ve got a computer, you can go to the state’s website and you can pull that piece of legislation up and read it word-for-word … to see how it affects you and what your viewpoint is on it,” Raymond says.
For further clarification, Raymond also suggests calling your senator or representative. They can provide insight into what people in your community are talking about. Joining groups or associations related to your industry can also be beneficial, he says.
“Those industry groups … create their own resolutions that are the basis for policy on the state level,” he says. “That’s often how legislation is drafted.”
Erickson is encouraging those in his district to attend city council meetings and learn what it takes to get something on the agenda. He’s also inviting you to pay attention to and vote in primaries.
“This is where you get your new candidates in and your old candidates out. If you don’t like something that your legislator is doing and you’re constantly seeing that, you need to get that person out of there with your vote. The primary is where you make that happen.”
Erickson says he’s grateful to rub shoulders with hard-working legislators in other districts and he’s glad to represent the voters in District 33. He wants to continue serving and using his skills to make a difference.
“Thanks to the public for letting me be part of their lives and serve them every day. It’s a true blessing,” he says.