By Idaho Freedom Foundation staff


Let’s take a short walk down memory lane of big government. In some circles, the deal to create Tamarack Resort in the early 2000s is jokingly referred to as the “Scott Turlington Full Employment Act.” Turlington was a policy adviser to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne at the time. And it was largely up to Turlington to convince the Land Board and the Legislature to move ahead with a 49-year lease of state lands for the project.


In 2004, Tamarack hired Turlington to serve as its government affairs and public relations director. Today, Turlington is the president of Tamarack Resort and Tamarack Realty.


And insiders wonder why people don’t trust the government.


Minus that background, Idaho news outlets are now making a lot of noise and reaching the wrong conclusions about the hiring decisions of Magellan of Idaho, a company awarded a $1.2 billion mental health contract. The company hired three former Department of Health and Welfare employees to oversee the project, including one employee who evaluated Magellan’s bid and was tapped as the company’s Idaho CEO.


The Idaho Capital Sun examined the deal and spoke to people in the healthcare industry who say this is all perfectly normal; there aren’t a lot of people in the state who have the knowledge to run these programs. Funnily, the news outlet interviewed lobbyist David Lehman. Capital Sun reporter Kyle Pfannestiel probably didn’t know that Lehman used to work with Turlington in the governor’s office and became lobbying partners, so he’s had a front-row seat to these kinds of insider shenanigans. Lehman called the private sector hiring of state employees “the nature of the free market.”


The Idaho Statesman quickly called for a ban on government employees and former legislators going to work in the private sector. “It doesn’t have to be a permanent ban, but a modest period, such as a year or two would be a reasonable period. It would go a long way toward bolstering trust in state government,” the editorial board wrote.


There is truth to the fact that it’s hard to take as trustworthy a government where companies or their lobbyists negotiate with politicians or their aides, and then those same people go to work for the companies once a deal is done. It not only looks shady, but sometimes, it actually is shady.


Consider what the disgraced Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack Abramoff said he would do to win an important deal:


When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, “You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.” Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.


In the Abramoff example, congressional staffers just needed to hear the prospect of a post-government job, not even an actual offer.


The problem here isn’t the lack of a ban on government employees going to work in the private sector. It’s the lack of a private sector in healthcare and the abundance of government in every sector. Government is too big and does too much.


If the only source of people who understand government programs is people working in government, why would anyone want to prohibit a company from taking advantage of that expertise?


Idahoans should be more concerned that the state has a $1.2 billion contract to handle mental health. This is not the proper role of government, and without the government in this field, there wouldn’t be anything to call into question.


Government would appear more trustworthy if it did a lot less. There would be fewer megabucks contacts and fewer employees leaving the government to go to the private sector to run government contracts.