“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S Truman
They say that pragmatism comes with age. This is true from my own experience. I have fought enough battles to understand that taking victories where I can get them is preferable to taking losses because I can’t win the war at once. Similarly, just because I oppose a bulk of actions taken by an executive does not mean that they are incapable of actions that I agree with.
I have often been a vocal critic of Idaho’s Governor Brad Little. He represents a system of good old boys who often dabble in nepotism and cronyism. As the former Lieutenant Governor, he was heir to the Governorship by country club standards. No doubt fellow country club member, now Lieutenant Governor Scott Bedke will feel entitled to the same in three years. Further, this country club’s lengths to maintain its power by smearing many good Republican women cannot be forgotten.
However, I have suggested and continue to maintain that Brad Little’s record is as good or better than many conservative peers nationwide. In fact, this is my primary complaint of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. While the corporate press fixes their cameras on DeSantis, most of his peers across the country quietly advance the same or better agendas.
In April 2021, Idaho became the first state to ban Critical Race Theory in the classroom. Florida followed suit two months later. In April 2022, DeSantis signed a fifteen-week abortion ban, following Little’s signature on a fetal heartbeat law one month prior. In 2020 Brad Little signed a permitless firearm carry expansion; while Florida not only doesn’t allow permitless carry, they have an outright ban on open carry only found in five largely anti-gun states such as California and New York.
Much like Federal executives, Governors often get undue credit for signing off on legislation crafted, promoted, and passed in legislatures. A good executive, however, will have the foresight to promote and advance their own agendas while meeting the legislature in the middle of theirs. A good legislature will reciprocate. This is why some credit is due to Brad Little for signing off on some of the recent laws advanced by the legislature.
In the current legislative session, Governor Little signed SB 1100 to protect students’ privacy by designating restrooms and changing rooms for students according to their biological sex. Governor Little signed HB 186, which permits the use of firing squads in capital punishment in the absence of lethal injection drugs. Governor Little signed HB 92, which requires a financial literacy course for graduating high school students, and is in line with the Governors promoted Launch program to fund the promotion of career readiness to graduating high school students.
When it comes to advancing a socially conservative agenda, Brad Little has signed most of what has been put in front of him, and conservatives will have little to complain about. When it comes to advancing a fiscally conservative agenda, Little tends to fall along authoritarian lines. This is not to say that Brad Little can’t boast of budget surpluses or that he spends more than he takes in. This is to say that when Brad Little takes more taxes from the public than the legislature allocates to budgets, he prefers to dictate how that money is spent rather than give it back to the people who earned it.
Last September, Governor Little signed HB 1 in a special session of the legislature two months before the general election. This bill was clearly designed as a re-election ploy to send tax rebates to voters two months before the general election while also pre-empting a ballot referendum initiative by the progressive group Reclaim Idaho to allocate Idaho’s budget surplus to the public schools. This was also unconstitutional, as Idaho law does not permit legislation to be bundled so that it pertains to more than one issue at a time.
Currently in revision is HB 24, which is Governor Little’s Launch program to designate some of the allocated $400 million in education funding from HB 1 to career training grants for Idaho high school graduates. It has already passed in both the House and Senate but is currently in reconciliation before it returns to the Governor’s desk. A few weeks ago, the Idaho Senate dropped SB 1038, which would have provided Education Savings Accounts to families to fund school choice. Proponents of ESAs are typically opponents of Governor Little’s Launch Grants. Perhaps there is some room for both parties to meet in the middle so that we’re funding education and career training choices at all stages of the student lifecycle.
It’s easy to highlight Brad Little’s shortcomings. He’s not a polished politician and takes more of a lead-from-behind approach than a field general approach. He has vetoed bills that would rein in his own emergency powers, such as the ability to declare certain professions essential while shuttering others. In an age of boisterous national politics, Governor Little has primarily operated quietly in backrooms. Still, despite not being the national standard-bearer on conservatism, Little’s record is no less than that of those who have been elevated to that status, which is worth noting.