After longest session, Idaho Senate chaplain reflects on his changed perceptions of politicians

After recently graduating from seminary, I had the honor of serving as the Senate Chaplain for the 2021 Idaho legislative session — Idaho’s longest ever. Something interesting happened to me in the last several months; my previous assumptions about “politicians” were challenged.

Doug Armstrong

To understand what happened to me, it’s helpful to know that my 34 years as a media executive contributed to certain assumptions about politicians.

For the last two decades of my media career, I was the president of a journalistic organization that covered the work of the Idaho Legislature. Every winter (January-March), we would rightly follow the various pieces of legislation and then critique the processes, outcomes and people of the Legislature. I slowly grew to assume that politicians were similarly motivated by partisan pursuits or self-interest. I guess you could say my personal stereotype about the “legislature” was a form of groupism because I had intellectually (and wrongly) lumped all lawmakers together as similar and homogenous. Shame on me.

Reality is created from the unity between truth and perception. As the 2021 Senate chaplain, I sought to know the senators as individuals, apart from their group or political party, and I became acquainted with them as unique people. The chaplain’s job is nonpartisan, so I enjoyed meeting and talking with both Democrats and Republicans.

As I met with more senators individually, I began to slowly realize how wrong my stereotype had been. Each senator was unique and unduplicated and had their own personal journey.

As chaplain, I observed individual senators caring deeply about Idaho, and I daily witnessed their solidity to their oath of office.

I now describe the average Idaho senator using words like honesty, integrity and thoughtfulness. Idaho’s 35 part-time senators (Republicans and Democrats) are good people who care about our citizens and seek the best interest of Idaho.

For sure, they don’t always agree on policy, but I did observe them acting with civility and courtesy toward each other. Idaho’s senators, regardless of party affiliation, are mindful of those who elected them, and they honor the fiduciary responsibility of their elected position.

Like so many typecasts in society today, if we seek to know people as individuals, then our human tendency toward groupism will diminish, and respect for our fellow humans can increase. This is also true for politicians.

Based on my daily observation as Senate chaplain this year, my own “assumptions” were challenged. You might say I got a healthy reality check, and I am better for this experience. We are blessed with many unique individual public servants in the Idaho Senate who genuinely care about Idaho.

Doug Armstrong is the chaplain of the Idaho Senate. He retired in 2018 after 22 years as president and general manager of KTVB-NBC Channel 7. He received a master’s degree from Moody Theological Seminary in 2019.