The Freshman 16 

I've never known Luke Malek to be a separatist, but there he was on Feb. 13, the newly elected representative from Coeur d'Alene, standing at a podium flanked by fellow freshman House members and announcing to the press that he'd crafted a "trailer" bill to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's state-based health insurance exchange proposal.

As in the past, President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act has sent the GOP into a tizzy. Most notably, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll's noxious rant comparing Obamacare to the Holocaust, compounded by a pitiful attempt by Wayne Hoffman's Idaho Reporter to put Nuxoll's nonsense in "historical context"--spoiler alert: Nazi collaborators in Vichy France. "That's the parallel that Nuxoll may have been trying to draw [emphasis added]," so reads the article.

The hard-right wing of the Idaho GOP is so set against health care reform that it doesn't even support Otter's idea for a state-based exchange--a plan that falls short of the governor's own initial saber rattling about suing the feds.

For the ideologues, the ultimate solution is nullification; and we all know how well that worked for the South back in the 1800s. Malek's proposal, meanwhile, is modest: more oversight of the exchange, including by legislators.

At a time when Idaho's majority party is nuts for the 19th century (apparently we must legislate teaching cursive handwriting in public schools), it's surprising to see Malek and co. staking out a position clearly meant to buck the fire breathers who have, since the Tea Party takeover, whipped up the House with the John Birch branch of the GOP. Surprising that it represents a (dare we say) more independent-minded voting bloc, but also that Malek has emerged, just sworn in for his first-ever legislative term, as its public face.

Full disclosure: I may have been Malek's first press critic, when we were students at then-Albertson College of Idaho and he was ASACI president. My beef was that he hewed with administration in the midst of an unprecedented budget crisis. This latter-day independent streak, though, could be good for the Legislature. Best case scenario, it injects some sorely needed moderation into a political culture more circus than statesmanlike. Worst case: At least Malek, and the freshman 16, has made things a little more interesting.

(P.S. And speaking of "interesting," check out the latest edition of The Blue Review, inserted in this week's paper, for an in-depth look at education reform in Idaho.)

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