Idaho’s Elected Leaders Lack Emotional Intelligence - and Owe an Apology

(AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

When Idaho’s legislature came into special session on August 24, their lack of foresight was an embarrassment. Citizens who have felt raped for five+ months by their governor suspending Constitutional statutes showed up to vent their anguish, but legislators didn’t think to listen, nor instruct these citizens on Statehouse protocols. As a result, the normal decorum that accompanies a legislative session experienced upheaval by angry citizens. Sadly, the leaders of Idaho’s elected representatives lacked the emotional intelligence to figure out what was going on.

Before I get into what happened at Idaho’s Statehouse during the last week of August, let me first state that for 30 years I’ve been an executive coach and corporate trainer. I have an undergraduate degree in Workforce Education and Development, a master’s degree in Training & Development, and I’m a dissertation shy of a Ph.D. in Organizational Learning and Leadership.  I’m also a certified behavioral analyst and a certified motivational analyst, and I’ve been a columnist and best-selling author on workplace issues for decades.

Suffice it to say that my clients pay me well to provide brutally honest advice based on my observations, and one piece of advice I frequently find myself giving is, “Listen to, inform, and involve your people more.”

This is especially true whenever a leadership team implements change. Why? Because of how the human brain works.

Consider the following (common) example. An executive team will spend weeks or even months in meetings, talking through details for a major change. After all the wrinkles are ironed out and the team is unified, they call the whole company together to present their plan – only to be met with massive resistance.  And they don’t know why.

On more than one occasion I’ve seen executives get frustrated when this happens, claiming privately that their employees are too stupid to see the big picture.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What happened is while the executive team spent all that time ironing out the details, their brains developed a new “schema” – a fancy word to describe the map of their thinking. The word schema is the root of the word “schematic.”

Neuroscience tells us our brains literally grow new neurons to accommodate new concepts, but the key is it TAKES TIME. It doesn’t happen in a 45-minute employee briefing or even a weekend retreat.

With that in mind, let’s return to the special session of the Idaho legislature. For over five months, Governor Brad Little has claimed Idaho is in a state of emergency (see my previous column on that issue). Although not as draconian as Governors Cuomo or Newsome, Governor Little’s Jekyll/Hyde behavior and mindset change has been a shock to deeply red Idaho, and the people have not been heard.

Idaho has a part time legislature that normally meets January through March, but Governor Little would not allow the Legislature to call itself into special session to address anything to do with how he was handling the “Covid crisis.”

And so, imagine the citizens’ frustration when the governor called for a special session to grant immunity to government, health districts, hospitals, schools and businesses for anything Covid-related, so long as they acted “in good faith.”

The governor called for Joint Judiciary Working Group (House and Senate committee members) to meet and iron out a bill for said immunity. The committee met for three weeks, and guess what?  They developed schema for their proposed legislation.

It should also be noted that our elected representatives are also quite familiar with the state’s legislative process:

  1. A Routing Slip (RS) is created to propose legislation. The RS is presented to the appropriate committee by a member of the legislature.
  2. The committee discusses the proposed RS for any changes they believe to be necessary.
  3. If a committee deems an RS to be worthy of debate by the entire chamber, they vote to make the RS into an official bill.
  4. The Bill is then printed, read and discussed, and the public is supposed to have 24 hours to review any bill before it’s voted on by the chamber.

They know all of that. It’s second nature to them. But it’s totally foreign to most citizens, and that’s where Idaho’s legislature showed their lack of emotional intelligence.

On August 24, I went down to Idaho’s Statehouse to watch the proceedings, and I was not alone. Approximately 200 other citizens also showed up, mostly moms, many of whom thought the government was trying to grant itself a get-out-of-jail-free card.

I will guarantee that the overwhelming majority of citizens that came to voice their frustration with the actions of the Executive branch were unaware of how the above legislative process worked. All they cared about after five months of feeling raped and told they were ‘non-essential” was being heard.

You would think that the Speaker of the House and/or the Senate President Pro Tempore would have thought through what might happen. You would think they might have sent someone out to the Capitol steps to inform the gathering crowd of what to expect inside – the decorum of the chamber and how the legislative process works. Sparing that, you would think that committee chairs would not clash with their constituents, but rather inform them about the process they would observe.

And most of all, you would THINK that they would have sent someone outside to tell the crowd of approximately 200 people that because of “social distancing,” they intended on letting only 26 people into the House gallery.

You would think.

Like I said, most of the crowd were moms. There were women pushing strollers, women discretely breast-feeding, and professional women who had taken the day off work to be there. Of course, there were also men, and I saw one man carrying an AR-15, which is legal to do in Idaho – even in the Statehouse – as Idaho is a Constitutional Carry state. I also saw another man with a handgun in holster. Those were the only weapons I saw.

I personally went to wait outside a committee room, as I wanted to be first in line to get a seat. But as the legislative session was about to start, the crowd made its way to the gallery, only to be told by three state police officers that only 26 people would be allowed inside.  Tired of being denied a voice and told they were non-essential, there was a push to get inside the gallery. Video evidence is clear. As the three state policemen tried to keep the doors closed, the citizens tried to pull them open.  Because of the competing tension, the glass on one of the doors broke.

And here’s what the local and national media reported:  Armed Anti-Mask Protestors Break Glass Door and Storm Idaho Statehouse.

First, that kind of reporting is pathetic.

Second, as a workplace issues consultant of 30+ years, I expect the leadership of an organization to keep their people informed about what’s going on. And one of the biggest mistakes leaders can make is blame their people when things don’t go right.

And so, from both a professional standpoint as well as that of an Idaho citizen, I am severely disappointed that our governor AND our representatives lacked the emotional intelligence to understand the frustration of their constituents as they issued statements blaming the citizens for the raucous events that occurred at the Statehouse.

Committee members spent weeks in meetings, developing a schema for the proposed legislation, and every legislator has an existing schema for how the legislative process works. Additionally, someone in leadership had decided well before the opening session to restrict the number of people who could enter the gallery and attend the committee meetings.

That Idaho’s legislative leaders could not put themselves in the shoes of their constituents is troubling. It is my personal as well my professional opinion that our elected officials owe Idaho’s citizens an apology for painting them as “anti-government protesters” instead of concerned citizens who wanted to be heard – and want the state’s Constitution to be followed.