I think that’s a red herring

Legislative Update

by State Rep. Randy Armstrong

“I think that’s a red herring.”

When you hear someone say that, it’s a colloquial term meaning there is something here to throw you off track, to destroy the original scent, or to lay a false trail. The dictionary says it is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue. It comes from a supposed story where someone drags a stinky fish to confuse the hounds.

When hearing legislation for the first time it is not always clear, sometimes unintentionally, but frustratingly, many times intentionally.

Recently the state regulation czar presented some new rule changes. He said they were mostly involved with floating lanterns; the kind where you put a candle under a small paper bag, it gently floats high up in the air, wafts along with the breeze, and then quietly lands, miles away, and burns an entire city to the ground. At least that was the story he told (beware: the red herring). One of the legislators was able to sniff past the fish (and the lanterns) and find out that by approving this “tiny” rule change we were approving the entire 2015 updated international fire code with its hundreds of pages of new stifling, grinding regulation. “I wonder why he never mentioned that.”

I think there is a dark, devious gene in some humans that just longs for control over others; from the sweet, little lady who becomes president of your neighborhood association and then maniacally begins measuring your grass length at night to figure out a way to fine you; to the U.S. Congress who wants to micro-manage every aspect of your life. Does anybody just want to let you live?

Subtly is another tool in this obsession for control. And in Boise there are warehouses of subtle. Sometimes we, as guileless, regular folk, are not good at subtle. This reminds me of the police station that recently got broken in to by vandals. Curiously they stole all of the plumbing fixtures in the building. The police are tracking down all the leads, but so far they still have nothing to go on.


Sometimes it’s staring you in the face and you still can’t see it. As a manager I hired lots of people. One day I was looking for a receptionist. A simple, sweet girl came to apply. She had blond tight curls, ankle socks with embroidered cuffs, a white sweater with a tiny chain across the opening to keep it demurely closed over her perfect pastel blouse: Just a picture of loveliness. Smitten by her goodness and captivated by her pure heart, I told her she could start on Monday. “Won’t she be perfect as our receptionist, greeting all the customers with her cherubic charm?”

The human relations department, which did background checks on all new hires, called Monday and asked if I wanted the details?


Breaking and entering, vandalism, trespassing, drug possession, distribution, felonies, misdemeanors, the rap sheet went on for 14 pages. Feeling stupid, I wanted to add one more: impersonating a princess. Fortunately HR only saw her record and not the angelic countenance; strangely they began to question my judgment.

Sometimes it’s simply subtle, and sometimes there is a red herring and the enigmatic trail is just hard to follow. But you have my commitment that while in Boise, no matter how many smelly fish they drag across the path, I will keep my nose to the true trail. At least that’s my plan.

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