February 25, 1995 in Idaho

Idaho’s Freshman Class: A Series Of Profiles Alltus Questions Traditional Advice Says The Best Way To Learn Is To Ask `A Bazillion Questions’

Eric Sorensen Staff writer
 

The traditional advice to freshmen legislators is to be seen and not heard, but Jeff Alltus has modified the code.

On the House of Representatives floor, the Coeur d’Alene Republican is the reserved newcomer.

“I feel like I’ve got a deck of cards here and there are times when you can stand up on the floor and say something,” he said. “And every time you use one card, you’ve got one less.”

But off the floor, Alltus, who turned 40 this session, takes a selfdescribed “no holds barred” approach to committee work and other activities.

Not content to work off the six square feet of desk space in the House chambers, Alltus claimed one of the faux wood-grain desks in the Republican Caucus’s basement office. He scooped up an idle personal computer, upgraded it and had it installed at his desk for looking up the Idaho Code and responding to constituent mail.

In committee meetings, he’s Mr. Ask It. Last week, on a Health and Welfare hearing on workmen’s compensation for agricultural workers - legislation affecting mostly southern Idaho migrant workers - Alltus asked, by his own count, “a bazillion questions.”

“I want to know as much as I can about a piece of legislation before I vote on it,” he said. “Geez, you’ve got the experts up there. What are they up there for if it’s not to ask questions?”

“Quite often you’ll have freshmen who lay back and not participate a whole lot, take more of a listen and learn attitude,” said Rep. Ron Crane, chairman of the State Affairs Committee. “Jeff is very aggresive in participating.”

“He’s not afraid to speak out,” said Rep. Thomas Loertscher, assistant majority leader. “He’s pitching right in and doing what he was elected to do.”

For all his energy, Alltus has still had a tough climb or two up the learning curve.

With Carol Pietsch, R-Sandpoint, he proposed a bill creating a 60-day residency requirement for people whose emergency medical care would be paid by counties. Aimed chiefly at out-of-staters injured in Idaho motor vehicle accidents, the measure would save counties $1.5 million a year in property taxes and another $77,000 from the state catastrophic health fund, said Alltus.

It looked like a slam dunk. But then members of the local government committee started talking about having a reciprocal agreement with states to cover the medical expenses. There is no way that will happen, Alltus said. His measure died by a 7-3 vote.

Now, said Alltus, he knows to do more homework on his bills to the point of explaining their details to every member of a committee before a vote.

Meanwhile, Alltus said he is managing to stick to the campaign pledges he made before last November’s Republican sweep.

The “out-of-the-closet evangelical Christian” is part of a legislative Bible study group with Reps. Gordon Crow of Hayden, Dan Mader of Lewiston and Tom Dorr of Post Falls. He has not pushed for an overtly Christian legislative agenda - “you pick your battles,” he said - but he is using “love thy neighbor” as a guide.

“I truly care about the 32,000 that I represent and the 1.1 million people that I represent,” he said, referring to the district and state populations. “They’re screaming at me, `The government has got to get out of my face.’ That theme is a resounding theme for me.”

Toward that end, he said he is aiming to help North Idaho families by chipping at the government restrictions he feels cut into their financial freedom.

“I’ve not voted for one tax increase yet,” he said. “I’m not going to.”

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