Jan | Feb 2014


Idaho Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis

Davis A Lesson in Leadership

By Krista Rinehart, CSG Toll Fellows Program Director
With his quiet, affable nature, Bart Davis doesn’t seem to be one of those people who were born to be politicians.
Davis has a reserved, dry wit and a humble air that seem at odds with the iconic image of an American politician. But for more than a decade, Davis has held a strong presence in the Idaho Senate, where he serves as majority leader, and jokes that “my mother raised me to be in the Senate.” 
He credits growing up in a home where political, social and religious matters were often topics for dinner-time discussions with instilling an interest in politics and public service.
He’s a former national chair of The Council of State Governments, as well as a former chair of CSG-WEST. He was a member of the 1999 class of the Henry Toll Fellowship program.
Family helped lead to Bart Davis to politics and family continues to influence his service today. Davis has spent the past 35 years happily married to an elementary school teacher, so it isn’t surprising that one issue where his family holds particular sway is education.
“My wife is an excellent fourth-grade teacher who has taught more than a quarter of a century in the classroom,” says Davis. “My wife and I speak often about the challenges that she and her colleagues experience in teaching today. Classroom learning and instruction has changed over her years of teaching. I need to understand this so that I can help as a legislator in shaping public policy.”
Davis credits his wife Marion with providing not only his “eyes on the ground,” but also with being his sounding board and private debate partner.
“Sometimes we disagree. Fortunately, I have a spouse who respects my opinion,” said Davis. “Frankly, I benefit from having a spouse that sticks to her guns on important education issues. I think it makes me a better legislator.”
The Davises are proud parents of six children and are grandparents 11 times over. Davis works to “build the best educational system that Idaho can afford” with his children’s and grandchildren’s futures in mind. He also strives to provide a financial and professional climate that will enable his family and all Idaho residents to succeed.
“I hope for a good and gracious government that fosters an economic climate that will allow meaningful and substantial careers for my family,” said Davis.
The economic crisis facing legislators across the country makes supporting education and other programs very difficult. Davis believes a well-funded education system can more easily attract talented, young teachers to inspire a new generation of students. But as states struggle to make ends meet, Davis worries that the current cuts—though necessary—may have a detrimental effect on Idaho’s schools.
“I worry what this might do to discourage those university students with a desire to teach,” said Davis.  “Further, I worry that we are not able to provide sufficient classroom aides or other technology advances that assist the modern teacher and help deal with today’s classroom challenges.”
While he may worry about how Idaho addresses budget constraints in the face of increased funding needs, Davis has served during other difficult economic times. Those past experiences will help him as Idaho looks for solutions and revives its economy.
“I’ve served as majority leader in more than one recession,” said Davis, “and I have a better understanding of mistakes to avoid.”
At a time when political differences have made it hard for Republicans and Democrats to come together, Davis strives to keep the Idaho Senate from getting mired in rhetorical battles and mudslinging.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like a good political fight as much as the next guy,” said Davis. “I believe, however, that when that rhetorical fight is over and the dust has settled, that only each party’s political base is satisfied and little good public policy was advanced.”
Davis, who was led to public service by “a strong desire to participate and contribute,” leads by example and seeks to maintain a civil discourse in the Senate. He does so by reminding himself that his colleagues share a similar desire to serve.
“My experience teaches me that each of my senators, regardless of political affiliation, are good and decent people with the best interest of their state at heart,” said Davis.