The battle is on for the soul of Idaho, and I don’t think that’s hyperbole.
Gov. Brad Little inherited the governor’s office from a string of governors who can best be described as moderately conservative. The legacy left by these governors is threatened now by a cabal of Republicans who see things differently.
The right wing of the party is angry about what they think is too much focus on diversity and inclusion, too much focus on race in mostly white Idaho as though students will live in an all-white world for the rest of their lives.
Amid crisis of care standards to fight the pandemic here in Idaho, they are angry about mask mandates and vaccination requirements, which they perceive to be affronts to their God-given liberty, ignoring the fact that our liberties have always been measured against the need to assure the safety and general welfare of the people.
They trash public education at all levels, believing that only charter schools will protect their children from the “heresies” taught in our public schools. They are particularly incensed by anecdotal and false accounts of indoctrination by liberal professors at Idaho’s universities with Boise State in the capital city serving as their favorite target.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and state legislators like Priscilla Giddings, who is running for lieutenant governor, are out in front stoking the flames and fires of right-wing activists, but they lean heavily on a far more secretive and subterranean flow of lies and distortions spoon-fed to them by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
It flies under the radar nourished by dark money intent on turning this nation and its states into autocracies that serve only the interests of far-right radicals.
One thing is clearly no mystery: The Idaho Freedom Foundation and its minions in the Legislature they fund, support and script are challenging traditional Republican Party governance that has propelled this state to considerable success over the years.
Ammon Bundy and his vigilantes add fuel to the fire. Their assault on civility, decency and courtesy operates on the premise that democratic self-government is measured by how loud, obnoxious and threatening they can be in public forums.
Recently, their kind of thuggery was on display when the Central District Health Board was forced to adjourn its meeting because of safety concerns over a large protest of screamers outside its headquarters and protesters also showing up at the home of board members and scaring family members.
The latest example of just how coarse and threatening our public dialogue has become is President Biden’s recent visit to Boise. Biden haters showed up outside the Boise Airport carrying signs that TV stations couldn’t even capture on film given how vulgar they were. Such behavior is far removed from the Idaho and the Boise that calls itself “Boise Nice.”
In a recent column, I laid some of the blame at the doorstep of the same Republican leaders I just described as moderately conservative. They have catered to the grievances of the right wing and allowed it to capture too many seats in the Legislature with no apparent strategy on how to field and support candidates who stand for traditional Republican values.
When it comes to fighting a pandemic, Gov. Little is certainly no paragon of virtue. His talk of joining the lawsuit against President Biden’s mandate for weekly COVID testing for employers of more than 100 employees is a travesty for an Idaho governor dealing with crisis of care standards in his own state.
But considering the possibility of McGeachin being elected governor and stripping Idaho of any standards or protocols to fight COVID recalls that old saying about “perfect being the enemy of the good.” Or the one about having to settle for half a loaf.
Now is the time to reexamine how we approach this upcoming 2022 election and realize that showing up to vote is hardly enough to guarantee the state remain governed by public officials who respect and practice the norms of self-government.
Stand against fanaticism
It’s time for Idaho citizens to step up and be counted among those who reject candidates and public officials who use threats and intimidation to achieve their political objectives. Chambers of commerce must add to their predictable calls for lower taxes and less regulation. They should take a stand against the fanaticism encouraged by a handful of our public officials. (One legislator who showed up at the Capitol with the express purpose of prohibiting Idaho’s employers from requiring vaccinations called for a vaccination to be termed a felony!)
The battle for the soul of Idaho will take place first in the Republican primary in May. Given Idaho’s more conservative and Republican politics, the candidates who win the primary usually go on to win the general election. I know there are Idahoans who would not feel comfortable leaving the Democratic primary, and I respect that, but they might also think about where they can have the greatest impact on Idaho’s future.
My vote in the Republican primary will have nothing to do with any allegiance to a party that has abandoned moderates for wing-nuts of the right, but it will recognize that life in Idaho politics is far from perfect and the objective for now is to rid the Republican Party of those who would do the most damage to the fiber of the body politic and the public policies that make Idaho the success it is and can be in the future.
Prior to 2011, voters could show up for the primary at their polling place and call for whatever ballot they chose to vote in that primary, but in 2011, Republicans closed their primary to only those voters registered as Republicans. Thus, for voters who have not voted in the Republican Party primary, but would like to do so in May, it requires registering as Republicans in advance of showing up at the polls. For those choosing to do so, call the Ada County Elections Office or the county in which you live on how to fill out and submit the Party Affiliation Declaration Form and get the specific dates of the window for submitting the form.
Too much is at stake to leave the Republican Party primary and Idaho state government to the few who have carried it to such extremes.
Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Reader’s Corner on Boise State Public Radio and he writes a biweekly column for the Idaho Statesman. He served two terms as Illinois lieutenant governor and 10 years as a state legislator.