'We Don't Always Agree, But This Has Been A Good Experience'
REXBURG, Idaho — When people talk about the joys of small town living the topic usually turns to how nicely folks treat each other. Jon Weber says Rexburg is no exception.
Weber owns Millennial Man, a men's clothing store here, and he serves as a board member of Beehive Federal Credit Union. In addition, he is a Madison County Commissioner. Kimber Ricks, chairman of the Beehive FCU board, also is a Madison County Commissioner (see related story).
According to Weber, the sometimes angry tone that has infected politics in other parts of the country has fortunately has skipped over Rexburg.
Credit Union Journal: Politics has become a more volatile arena. How do you answer when asked, "What is life like in politics?"
Weber: For me it has been an exciting adventure. I certainly enjoy the challenge because there is always something new to work through and figure out. Certainly politics is not made for everyone, but I really enjoy it.
CUJ: How did you come to be involved in politics?
Weber: First was through community service, being involved in organizations such as Kiwanis Club and the Chamber of Commerce. You have to have a "name," if you will, and I've always had a desire to run for politics going back to being in college. My family supported me and the time was right and I ran for Madison County Commissioner. And I won.
CUJ: Is there a particular issue or set of issues you are championing?
Weber: As I got involved I realized there is a need to bring the tax districts together for the benefit of the entire county. Sometimes it feels as if we are pulling in different directions, so I got on the bandwagon of working together on issues that affect our community and solve those issues together. I think things are going much better.
One big issue for me is the economic revitalization of Rexburg's downtown. We want people to want to come down here, so it is important to create an environment where they want to stay. Our schools, our hospitals, our recreational facilities all play a part.
CUJ: There has been considerable talk of the lack of civility in politics today. Do you think things have become less civil? If so, why?
Weber: For the most part politics in Rexburg is civil. We have public hearings and the community has shown up in droves with issues on their minds they want to make known, but they are civil.
When you live in a small community you live together, work together and go to church together, so people tend to be more civil. I imagine in the bigger cities where people can lose their identities aren't as civil in meetings.
CUJ: Many people, including in credit unions, say it is just not worth getting involved. Do you ever find yourself thinking that? Why should people get involved?
Weber: I can't think of a time when I ever said it wasn't worth it. I truly believe being involved in a community at any level is a responsibility we each have for being a member of society. Whether that is volunteering at the library, city council, whatever. Every single citizen living in this great nation benefits from what people did before us. We owe it to our children and our posterity.
That is not to say I have not left meetings with a stressful headache and had to unwind and relax. Usually I go home and greet the family, and then perhaps bow out of dinner, take a couple Advil and get some peace and quiet.
CUJ: What is the most difficult part of holding office?
Weber: Making decisions you know will adversely affect a group of people. Every decision is going to affect someone, so you need to study it to be confident that the decision you make is the right one.
But some are not black and white, so you have to hold public hearings and listen to the community.
Sometimes you have to stand contrary to what some might want you to do. In our democratic system the majority rules, but that might mean 49% of the people are unhappy. Luckily, I've been in this position for three years and it hasn't happened yet.
CUJ: What is there about politics and holding office that you think many people don't know or understand?
Weber: I don't think folks realize the complexity of politics. Some make it out to be so clear cut and think if they were there they would do this and that. In your personal life you make a decision and it is done. In politics you bring up an idea and it might take months or even years for it to be decided on. You have to convince other elected officials or the public you have the answers, and that can be a lengthy process.
The higher up you go in government the more complex it gets and the more people you have to convince. In the House of Representatives there are 435 people to vote on an issue, then it has to go to the Senate. On the local issue it is a little easier, because things work a little faster.
CUJ: Where do credit unions fit in politics? Are they understood? What should CUs do more/less of?
Weber: I don't deal that much with credit unions in my office. We might get involved if a credit union asks us to support an issue, such as the interchange issue. They might ask us to call a representative or a senator, but that is probably the extent of how we might get involved.
I think credit unions do a fine job of lobbying on behalf of their members. I am certainly pro-credit unions, and think they have a solid track record of doing what is right. Some credit unions have taken a hit in recent years, but the majority are still solid because they do what is right for their members, not what is right for their stockholders.
CUJ: What is your general view of Congress and national politics?
Weber: Since I have been in politics I have softened my view on folks that serve. Until you are in their seats it is really difficult to understand the pressure on the decisions they make. Sometimes they don't have the luxury of studying an issue out for days or months. I appreciate everyone that is in politics and understand where they are at.
Certainly there are some nutballs are out there, or fanatics, or people with a personal vendetta or axe to grind, but I think most of the people in politics are there to serve our country. I don't know of many that are in office to mess things up. Are there disagreements? Certainly. I don't agree with everything coming down the pike, but that is the best part of our democracy. We are all trying to do our very best. You hope after all you can do, that it all works out.
CUJ: How much of a time commitment does your office require? How often do you meet? What does it pay?
Weber: State statute requires us commissioners to meet the second and fourth Mondays of each month, for nine hours. In addition we sit on various boards, such as the economic development board, hospital board, fair board and others. Twice a year there are district meetings to attend. And then there are the people from the community who want to call you.
When you put all that into the mix, commissioners spend 15 to 20 hours per week, sometimes more. Usually you need people who are retired or, if they own their own businesses, are flexible enough to attend these meetings.
Commissioners in our state receive from $15,000 up to $60,000 for the full-time commissioners. Locally we are at $28,000. If folks are looking at politics for the monetary benefits they are sorely mistaken.
CUJ: Anything you want to add?
Weber: I thoroughly enjoy my office. Folks treat me very kindly. We don't always agree, but it has been a good experience.