I suspect anyone who knows Sen. Joe Stegner from Lewiston likes him. But there is a world of difference between someone who is well-liked because of his integrity vs. someone who tows the party line to stay in the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club.

Sen. Stegner is the former.

The University of Idaho will be well-served to have him representing its interests in the Idaho Legislature as the school’s lobbyist this next session. He is one of those rare individuals who has figured out how to speak his mind without being offensive or to not take a stand on important issues to avoid ruffling feathers.

Since 1998, Stegner’s reasoned discourse in Idaho’s Capitol has been a great relief to those of us who are fighting for the working and middle classes. We have known him as a true statesman for Idaho’s citizens and not ideologies that now control most of our state’s Republican Party leadership.

Perhaps Sen. Stegner’s stand against the so-called “loyalty oath” supported by the right wing of the Republican Party is what led to his decision to leave the Senate. Only a few months ago he spoke out against the oath: “It seems to be directed at purifying the party. It smacks of some rather heavy-handed party membership requirements that I think in the last century have certainly been abused in any number of nations, and I don’t think that’s the direction America should be going.”

A lobbyist represents the interests of his/her employer in the halls of government. Those employers can be large for-profit corporations known for taking advantage of tax loopholes or environmental regulations that keep our food, water and air clean. They may be employers who look to exploit their own workers and customers while their CEOs make millions in profits.

But some lobbyists are representing interests of institutions (like public universities) whose success benefits all of us. They could use our help. Too few voices advocate for majority economic interests. Too few leaders speak out for those who are exploited and marginalized because of bigotry and prejudice. Sen. Stegner has been a rare Idaho Republican who has done both.

I have watched this state, where I was born and raised, become a place that has fewer and fewer legislators like Sen. Stegner and more and more Good Ol’ Boys serving the rich and their special interests or theocrats who try to enforce their personal religious views on the entire population. A value system in state government that derides public education and the public good (including caring for its poorest citizens and a diverse population) does not make for a home where the people prosper and live happy, healthy lives.

A well-trained workforce, cutting edge research and an economic engine are all things that a great public university brings to a state. The University of Idaho will have one of our finest citizens representing us in an often hostile state capitol. Now it’s up to the voters to start putting in more legislators with the integrity and commitment to do the right thing.

* Delmar Stone is the executive director for the Idaho Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. Email him at delmarstone@gmail.com.

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