Idaho Lawmaker Stands By Comments On Experts And "Elitist" Policymaking

Aug 18, 2020

Credit Idaho Legislature

An Idaho lawmaker is standing by his comments that listening to experts is an elitist approach to creating public policy.

Last week during a legislative hearing, Sen. Steven Thayn (R-Emmett) said, “Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach and I’m very fearful of an elitist approach."

“I’m also fearful that it leads to totalitarianism, especially when you say, ‘Well, we’re doing it for the public good,’” Thayn said at the time.

He was talking about a bill that would block public health districts from shutting down schools or requiring students and staff to wear masks on campus. Instead, those decisions would be left up to local school boards in consultation with public health districts.

In a follow-up interview, Thayn expanded on those comments. He said an expert’s role is to give advice, while the ultimate decision on a proposal should be left up to those who were elected.

“I don’t want to see a shift of responsibility from the people and elected officials to experts because I think it’ll weaken both the people and the institutions of our country,” he said.

But public health district board members who make these decisions are largely made up of elected county commissioners from the region. Each has at least one medical expert appointed to the board.

Mask mandates, which most scientists agree decrease the spread of the coronavirus, are also overwhelmingly popular with Americans: 75% support mask orders for public places – including 58% of Republicans – according to a recent Associated Press poll.

Still, Thayn said a majority, regardless of its size, shouldn’t “dictate” how others choose to act. That, he says, should be an individual’s choice.

“I’m afraid as we’re moving into this pandemic philosophy, or era, that we’re starting to get comfortable with the idea that because of potential harm where there are honest opinions on both sides about these issues, that we’re going to control everyone’s actions because of what some people think.”

The bill that would move masking and closure decisions to school boards could be taken up during next week’s special legislative session.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

Member support is what makes local COVID-19 reporting possible. Support this coverage here.