When I first was approached to join Idaho’s redistricting commission, I wasn’t inclined to do it. I’d been working as a political staffer for almost 17 years, and as much as I loved and cherished my political career, the friends I made and the elected officials I worked for, the political climate in Idaho had become vitriolic and divisive in recent years. So, I was leery of returning to that environment.
I had recently moved from Boise to Tetonia, with my husband and young son to distance myself from this new, abusive political atmosphere, which seriously damaged my outlook. But after a few days thinking it over, my deep love for Idaho and loyalty to the Idaho Democratic Party wore heavily on me, and I excitedly said yes. House Democratic Leader Ilana Rubel, who had asked me to serve on the commission, is someone I greatly respect, so I couldn’t deny her sincere request. I viewed it as an opportunity to put my extensive knowledge of Idaho politics and passion for the political process to use.
I soon learned I’d be serving with five people I knew well; though I’m sure if you asked any of them whether they knew me well prior to this experience, they would likely say they didn’t. I’ve primarily served as a behind-the-scenes player, who appreciates anonymity.
Dr. Dan Schmidt, a former state senator from Moscow, and Nels Mitchell, a former U.S. Senate candidate from Boise, were my Democratic co-commissioners. Republican leaders appointed his honor, Bart Davis, a former U.S. attorney and state senator from Idaho Falls, and former state representatives Eric Redman, from north Idaho, and Tom Dayley, from the Treasure Valley. I was pleased with both party’s choices. They are all widely respected, and I knew they know Idaho as well as I do. And to my pleasure, they truly are kind humans.
The bipartisan commission started meeting in early September. Our first meetings were our honeymoon phase. We were all there for the same reason: to be fair and work diligently to produce precise, mathematical maps splitting our state into 35 legislative districts and two congressional districts. We set a public hearing calendar and began our tour of Idaho, visiting many towns and speaking with hundreds of people. I could tell some Idahoans attended out of pure interest in the redistricting process, which occurs every 10 years, while others came with political motivations. I took all input seriously, and was impressed with the depth of questions my co-commissioners asked. The honeymoon was continuing. What a relief!
As the process proceeded, so did our mutual respect. After much deliberation and hard work, the bipartisan commission delivered complete legislative and congressional maps. Some Idahoans won’t love them, others will never even think about these maps, but every Idahoan should know we did the work to the best of our abilities, and we did it as a collective group.
Politics don’t have to be divisive. We can respect each other, even when we have different opinions and backgrounds. We can display common decency and treat each other kindly, just as these five other commissioners did with me and each other. If you remove the toxicity — though we certainly did encounter some folks who tried to insert it — politics can be a diplomatic process.
I want to thank these commissioners for reigniting my love for politics, which not so long ago left me feeling like I’d just been sucker punched. The five of you renewed that joy again in me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. God bless you all, and God bless Idaho.
— Amber Pence is a commissioner on Idaho’s redistricting committee.