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Director of the Department of Labor, Roger Madsen, makes another save

Dan Popkey
January 23, 2010
Idaho Statesman

One of the great fixers to ever serve in Idaho government has conjured another rabbit and salvaged the Idaho Human Rights Commission.

On Friday, lawmakers learned that Roger Madsen, director of the Department of Labor, found the money to replace general funds Gov. Butch Otter proposes cutting from the agency that investigates alleged violations of civil rights laws.

"Is he a darling or what?" said Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, who co-chairs the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, after Human Rights Commission Director Pam Parks told the committee the good news. "There's got to be a halo on that wonderful head of his."

Democratic Rep. Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum chose similar words. "He's a great rescuer, and he's a saint."

Back in the day, many Idahoans thought otherwise. As a freshman Republican senator, Madsen briefly became a national celebrity as co-sponsor of what would have been the nation's most restrictive anti-abortion law. Madsen was heartsick when Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus vetoed House Bill 625 in 1990.

H.B. 625 proved so unpopular that Madsen and enough of his GOP colleagues were defeated in November to give Democrats a 21-21 tie in the Senate. In 1992, Madsen returned to the Senate, upsetting the formidable Jim Risch in the GOP primary and beating Sen. Cynthia Scanlin in a rematch.

Two years later, Phil Batt was elected governor and made Madsen Labor chief. Then-Lt. Gov. Otter, a Batt confidant, told Batt he'd made a mistake. "I said, 'Phil, I know now you're working on full employment - because you got Roger Madsen a job!' I thought that was one of the worst appointments."

Otter said Friday that he ran into Madsen six months later and apologized, telling him, "You're among the best I've ever seen."

Otter got to know Madsen when Madsen was an employment lawyer and Otter was an executive at the J.R. Simplot Co. "Roger is a soft-sell guy. I thought, how is he going to deal with the tough union guys or the tough employer?"

Madsen's legislative record includes reforms of laws governing bribery and corrupt practices, open meetings and victims' rights. As agency director, he routinely returns money to the state.

"He's just always been incredible in adapting to whatever the wishes are of the governor at the time," said JFAC's other co-chair, Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

Madsen, 62, will do anything. He has: led gubernatorial task forces on government reform, unemployment insurance, workers' compensation and human resources; been interim director of both the Idaho Commission on the Arts and Idaho Disability Determinations Service; co-chaired the Idaho Rural Partnership; and been national chairman of five panels of the National Association of Workforce Agencies.

He has bachelor's degrees in political science and French, master's degrees in political science and business administration and a law degree. But his humble pie demeanor is no act.

"We're just trying to do what we're asked to do," he said Friday of his plan to fold the Human Rights Commission into his agency. "We view it as a natural fit and we think it's extremely important work."

When Otter was elected in 2006, Madsen told Rep. Bell he feared he wouldn't be reappointed, though Madsen had continued as Labor director through the administrations of Batt, Dirk Kempthorne and Risch. Bell reassured him: "Oh my goodness, you're a keeper."

Subject to legislative approval, Madsen proposes funding the Human Rights Commission from interest on Labor's $75 million reserve and from penalties paid by employers and those who wrongly make unemployment claims. The second fund generates $1.5 million annually.

Absent this deal, Idaho risked turning over civil rights investigations to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That would be bad for aggrieved citizens and Idaho employers, who count on the commission to head off expensive lawsuits.

The commission, which has 11 employees, dismissed 62 percent of cases in 2009 for lack of probable cause and resolved 26 percent through mediation.

Director Parks said the agency will maintain its "independent public identity," an "absolutely critical" aspect of the deal. She saluted Madsen, for having "demonstrated a real commitment to civil rights."

Parks also deserves praise. On Jan. 4, she discovered that Utah, Texas, Oregon and New Mexico operate human rights programs under the Labor umbrella. She alerted the budget office, which, in turn, asked Madsen for help.

"It's a win-win for everybody," Parks told JFAC.


Originally posted at http://www.idahostatesman.com/popkey/story/1052576.html

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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