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Idaho Legislator Takes Lessons into Second Term

Idaho state legislature

Many first-time elected officials go into office with plans to push for major changes they promised during their campaigns. Then their experience in office leads them to moderate their views. For others whose ideas were more mainstream, the evolution as an elected official is more nuanced.

Second-term Idaho state Representative Eric Redman is a big, soft-spoken guy who spent 44 years in private industry. Most of that was in the insurance and real estate sectors. But serving in politics?

“It was never on my bucket list, to be quite honest with you," Redman said. "But here we are.”

Redman was approached before the 2014 election to run for a state House seat in Idaho’s District 2. That covers much of Kootenai County. He decided to run, driven in part by a desire to blunt the effects of the Affordable Care Act on health care in Idaho.  

“I had an insurance agency. I did not like what was going to happen and it turned out pretty much what I thought was going to happen," he said. "Costs have gone up. We have a lot of mandates we didn’t have in Idaho.”

In May 2014 Redman won his primary and was unopposed in the general. It gave him an uncommon luxury, an extra half year more than most successful candidates get to prepare for his term in office. That meant more time to deal with the first-timer’s information overload. You know the cliche about drinking from a fire hose.

“In your second term, it actually reduces down to a garden hose,” Redman said with a laugh.

During the second year of his term, Redman introduced his first bills. One in particular drew attention because it sought to forbid Idaho courts from considering Islamic, or Sharia, law in legal cases. The bill got wide play on the Internet. It was approved by the state House, but not by the Senate. The bill died when the session ended. He says he’ll introduce it again this year.

That experience taught Redman an important lesson. If you want to get legislation passed, you need to introduce it earlier to avoid the bottleneck of bills that die at the end of the session because there isn’t time to consider them.

As he got to know legislators Redman says he grew to appreciate the motives of his colleagues, even those with whom he holds different opinions.

“Everyone there has a desire to try and help their communities and help our state,” he said.

“Were you surprised by that?" reporter Doug Nadvornick asked. "Did you think people had motives that weren’t quite so pure?”

“Yes. With the Internet and everything, you hear a lot of different ideas," Redman said. "In the House when I started, I was against an incumbent and the Republican speaker did a phone service for that incumbent and so I thought he was really against me, but that’s not the case.”

Here’s another lesson Redman learned: the most effective elected officials are those who work toward positive solutions.

“You can’t just work toward a negative approach. There are a few legislators that I think work that way and so nothing gets done,” he said.

But perhaps the biggest lesson Redman learned came at the end of his first session in 2015. He was one of 61 House members who approved a seven-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase to pay for transportation projects. He knew his vote wouldn’t be popular when he returned home and he knew he’d have to sell it to the voters.

“I took our transportation officer around to town halls to explain that we were $262 million in arrears in maintenance in Idaho and our bridges were over 50 years old. So I felt it was a necessity but you know you don’t like to pass taxes in Idaho,” Redman said.

“Was that hard for you to do when a lot of your peers in this area were saying no to that?” Nadvornick asked.

“It was a difficult decision, you know," Redman said. "I had to really pull up my big boy pants and say, this is important for Idaho. I don’t want my grandkids falling through a bridge because they’re not doing the proper maintenance.”

In the end, Redman's constituents validated his vote on that and many other bills. They returned him to office in November for a second term.

Even though he never sought to be an elected official, Eric Redman finds politics to be honorable work.

“I guess that’s the thing. You can’t have anarchy. You have to have good government too,” he said.