Guest opinion: The Lewiston Tribune
I and the 1,450 members of The Common Interest are among those who feel this loss deeply. Five years ago, I had an idea that I thought would help practical solutions win out over special interest and partisan politics in the Idaho Legislature. Today, The Common Interest has a track record of legislative achievements for the common citizen. Sweeney was crucial to translating the idea into real world impact.
In the beginning, The Common Interest needed some way of quickly and credibly communicating what we are about. My thought was to find two founding board members who could lend their reputation to the organization until it could earn one of its own. I asked dozens of knowledgeable people around the state to identify retired Democratic and Republican legislators who had a reputation for putting the shared interests of Idahoans ahead of special interest and partisan politics. I wanted to know which of these had a reputation for good working relationships across the aisle, for integrity, and for substance. Bruce was at the top of everyone's list.
So, I called Bruce and asked if I could come to Lewiston to discuss an idea with him. At our meeting, I shared my concern that it was increasingly difficult for common citizens to educate themselves with sound information on issues and then make their voices heard above the clamor of special interest and partisan voices. I had only to mention this theme to know that I'd struck a deep chord with him. The longer he spoke of his own like concern, born of extensive experience, the more animated he became. At the conclusion of our conversation, he said, "Well, I've committed to Marilyn that I'd reduce my commitments, but this is too important - yes, I'll join you."
Fortunately, Bruce's good friend, former Republican Sen. Laird Noh from Kimberly, had a similar response. Together we founded The Common Interest in the fall of 2004. Having just returned to the state after a 20-year absence, I was largely unknown. Throughout those early days, I repeatedly encountered the strength of Bruce's reputation. I would introduce myself as representing the organization that "Bruce Sweeney, Laird Noh, and I had founded." Doors in the Statehouse would open; reporters would listen; editorial page editors would take notice of our work. Just saying Bruce's name powerfully conveyed dedication to the interests of Idahoans above party or special interest.
The Founders designed the Constitution with its checks and balances so that it would be difficult for narrow factions to impose their will at others' expense. They recognized that the institutional structures of separated powers would be necessary but not sufficient to ensure that the government would remain focused on promoting, as the Preamble puts it, the general welfare. It would also require citizen leaders who recognized this as the purpose of government and could work with skill and heart towards that end. Sweeney was just the kind of leader the Founders had in mind.
Sweeney's passing should remind us all not only of the foundational principles of our government, but also of the need to do our part. His life is a remarkable example of full and active participation.
"Government by the people" will work effectively in no other way. Bruce's passing has left a large void. It's up to the rest us to fill it.
Allred is founder and president of The Common Interest.