Idaho’s 12 most embarrassing news stories of 2021: Red-faced in a red state

·12 min read

Proud to be an Idahoan? You might want to stop reading this, boss.

After calling Boise home for decades and loving it, I’ve come to appreciate two things: 1) Idaho is the best place to live in America. 2) Idaho often feels like the most embarrassing place to live in America.

With 2021 dwindling in the rear-view mirror, let’s reflect on last year’s groan-inducing newsmakers.

First, a caveat: Idaho is a “conservative” state. Consequently, many of our biggest shudders came courtesy of the extreme right. So before you fire me an expletive-filled email for being too one-sided, remember: We. Do. Not. Live. In. Oregon. This column ain’t about liberal nutjobs in Portland.

This is Idaho. We are red-faced in a red state. I wouldn’t want to raise my independent-thinking family anywhere else — if only for the entertainment value. In no particular order, here are the top dozen head-slappers of the past year.

(I tried to keep it to 10, but ... Idaho.)

McGeachin: Little’s fun co-worker

Was anyone more embarrassed by Idaho’s lieutenant governor than Gov. Brad Little himself?

Janice McGeachin undermined him regularly. She blasted him publicly. As a bonus, she spread misinformation about COVID-19. She got sued by Idaho journalists. Her toxic, crackpot antics were nonstop and over-the-top.

If Little dared leave for a millisecond, Idaho magically became Planet Janice. Grandstanding as “acting governor,” she took ridiculous executive actions, such as barring nonexistent mask mandates. In each instance, Little simply reversed whatever lunacy she’d concocted.

Then there was McGeachin’s “education indoctrination task force.” It claimed that a “scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism and Marxism” was permeating Gem State schools and colleges. An Idaho Statesman editorial summed it up best: “manufactured witch hunt.”

After wrongly denying documents requested by the Idaho Press Club in relation to that birdbrained task force, McGeachin was fined for violating the Idaho Public Records Act. The Press Club filed a civil suit against her and she lost in court. Then she sought taxpayer money to cover legal bills, and the suit was settled for $28,973.84.

Oh, and once those records got released, they showed what the public thought of her efforts. No wonder she wanted to hide them.

The Treasure Valley was filled with billboards about poop, thanks to a Meridian company.
The Treasure Valley was filled with billboards about poop, thanks to a Meridian company.

‘Yay! I pooped’ billboards

There we were, driving around the Treasure Valley. Minding our own business. And here came these obnoxious billboards about doing our business. “YAY! I POOPED TODAY!” they screamed in massive, cheerful letters. There were 22 billboards in the area, according to Microbe Formulas, the Meridian “health and wellness company” behind them.

TV news covered the “story” at the start of the year. The Idaho Press in Nampa published a short, anonymous mention: “Jeers to the very crude billboard on Garrity Boulevard that applauds a bodily function,” the letter writer complained. “What is the point? Do we really want this to represent the city of Nampa?”

I wrote a crappy column suggesting that the billboards be flushed. Nope. They just kept stinkin’ up the skyline.

‘Dr.’ Ryan Cole, flaming masks

Speaking of “Yay,” Idaho is the least-vaccinated state in America! That’s according to a year-end ranking from USA Today. Hospital workers must be stoked. Tons of Idahoans inexplicably refuse to accept — or can’t comprehend — clear science.

Case in point: Garden City pathologist Dr. Ryan Cole, who was appointed to Central District Health’s Board of Health by incompetent Ada County commissioners. Cole’s pandemic views often are described as “controversial.” Try potentially deadly. He’s described the vaccine as a “poisonous attack,” “needle rape,” “fake” and a “clot shot.” He’s also touted the false claim that thousands have died after receiving the vaccine. In other words, he fits right in.

Meanwhile, boneheaded “Burn the Mask” rallies in Idaho drew national media attention. From The Washington Post: “Cheering parents watched as children tossed surgical masks into a fire outside the Idaho Capitol in Boise on Saturday as more than 100 people gathered to protest mask mandates as an affront to their civil liberties.”

No need for masks. We should wear paper bags over our heads in Idaho.

Idaho ‘protests’ Biden

When the president of the United States dropped by Boise for a friendly visit at the National Interagency Fire Center, the response was predictable.

Idahoans behaved like jackwagons.

More than 1,000 protesters greeted President Joe Biden. Which is fine. Protesting is an American right. (Not that you’ll ever find me marching anywhere in Idaho, except to the nearest ski lift.) But the signs and flags carried by our fellow citizens? They were delusional: “Trump won,” blah blah blah. They were ugly: anti-vaxxer messages with needles in the shape of a swastika. They were profane and vulgar: “F*** Biden,” without the asterisks.

Where is our decency, Idaho? We don’t have to agree with the president’s politics. But to flat-out disrespect the office? Like selfish, hateful buffoons? Both sides of the aisle need to stop it.

Idaho’s looooong legislative session

Idaho has long been proud of having a “part-time” Legislature. Lawmakers meet in Boise until sometime in March usually. Then they leave us be.

Then came 2021. Officially, the session lasted 311 days. The House never did adjourn — it simply recessed in May before returning in the fall. And what did our representatives do with all of this time in 2021? Be super-inefficient. Just 56% of bills became law, the lowest percentage in a decade.

And when they did call themselves back in November for three days? Not a single thing was passed, other than a joint memorial stating opposition to federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Perfect. They cost Idaho taxpayers about $30,000 per day to be in session, and November produced nothing but a 519-word piece of uselessness. That’s about $173.41 per word.

On the other hand, what came out of their mouths was priceless.

Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, lamented that an early-learning grant would make it “more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child.” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said “voting shouldn’t be easy” while legislators bandied about needless election reform bills — an obvious nod to the 2020 election fraud fantasies.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, famously declared “the pandemic is over.” Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, didn’t even think there was one: “We keep calling it a pandemic, and a pandemic to me at my age, is a lot of people dying. And we didn’t see that.” Yo, Vito, ask the nearest exhausted medical worker if we’re in a pandemic. Either way, nearly 2,000 Idahoans had died when he said it, and the number now exceeds 4,200.

Oregonians vote to join Idaho

Outraged by the blue-state politics within their borders, reality-challenged eastern Oregonians followed their dream. They voted in favor of ballot measures to consider joining Idaho. During 2021, eight Oregon counties took the plunge.

“Rural Oregon is declaring as loudly as it can that it does not consent to being misgoverned by Oregon’s leadership and chooses to be governed as part of a state that understands rural Oregon’s values and way of making a living,” the president of Move Oregon’s Border said in a news release. “We call on the Oregon Legislature to not dare to hold these counties captive.”

What are these Oregonians legally puffin’?

On a surface level, the “Greater Idaho” secession movement is hilarious. But it’s also a bad look for Idaho, since it indicates just how wacko many outsiders think we are. “Yes, come on in and join us, Oregon hicks from the sticks! Bring your liberal, dope-smoking cows for slaughter!”

A widely seen photo of Idaho man Josiah Colt, left, was included in a list of “persons of interest” being sought by police for unlawful entry following a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
A widely seen photo of Idaho man Josiah Colt, left, was included in a list of “persons of interest” being sought by police for unlawful entry following a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Idaho insurrectionists

When a massive mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 trying to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s 7-million-freaking-votes, 306-232 electoral vote victory, you knew Idahoans had to be involved.

There were fewer than we might have guessed — at least among those arrested so far. Of more than 700 rioters charged as part of a Department of Justice investigation, only six are Idahoans. Their federal court cases are in varying states of progress.

But, of course, Idaho found a way to be special. Two high-profile photos circulated afterward were of Treasure Valley resident Josiah Colt, a Mountain View High graduate. In one, he dangled acrobatically from the Senate balcony. In another, he was plopped down in a seat that he wrongly claimed was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chair on social media. (He also called the octogenarian a “bitch” in his video. How lovely.) Colt actually was in Vice President Mike Pence’s spot in the Senate chamber.

Colt later apologized for his role in the insurrection, telling local KBOI-TV that he “got caught up in the moment.” He pleaded guilty in July to one felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding but has not been sentenced yet.

‘When do we get to use the guns?’ guy

Want to feel warm and fuzzy? Ponder the knowledge that your neighbors apparently want to go on murder sprees because of their obsessive, misguided beliefs.

In October, right-wing youth organization Turning Points USA held a rally in Nampa. It was hosted by founder and exploitative ringleader Charlie Kirk, who happily profits from the obvious yet pervasive lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. During this mass orgy of indignation, a man in the audience asked Kirk: “When do we get to use the guns?” Cheers erupted, naturally.

“That’s not a joke,” our terrorist hopeful clarified, speaking into a microphone. “I’m not saying it like that. I mean, literally, where is the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”

It’s chilling. It’s sad. It’s all on video. And, yep, it made national headlines for Idaho.

Giddings the doxxer

Icky? Embarrassing? Try both.

First, you have former lawmaker Aaron von Ehlinger, who resigned from the Idaho House of Representatives in April after an ethics panel unanimously recommended that he get the boot. Accused by a legislative intern of sexual assault, von Ehlinger has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object.

Then you have Rep. Priscilla Giddings, the White Bird Republican who doxxed the 19-year-old intern. Giddings shared a far-right article identifying her, including personal information, on social media and in a newsletter.

Giddings was formally censured by the Idaho House in November. That almost surprises me. As The New York Times reported, “during a two-hour debate in the Idaho Statehouse ... Ms. Giddings said she had not done anything wrong. ‘I would not have done anything differently,’ she said. ‘I think my intent was pure.’

There was boisterous clapping and cheering from the public gallery after she spoke.”

Ick, Idaho!

BSU professor PR disaster

Boise State political science professor Scott Yenor was an extra-credit embarrassment.

He made international headlines last fall after spewing sexist opinions about women.

Speaking at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, Yenor described independent females as “medicated, meddlesome and quarrelsome.” He also basically suggested that they stay home cranking out babies. “Young men must be respectable and responsible to inspire young women to be secure with feminine goals of homemaking and having children,” he said. “Every effort must be made not to recruit women into engineering, but rather to recruit and demand more of men who become engineers. Ditto for med school, and the law, and every trade.”

Cue the public-relations nightmare for BSU. “Boise State University has a workplace liability on its hands with professor Scott Yenor,” an Idaho Statesman editorial declared. Hundreds of protesters gathered on campus for a rally Dec. 4.

Fun fact: Yenor was the lone academic on Lt. Gov. McGeachin’s “education task force,” according to Idaho Ed News. Shocker!

Antisemitism lives

Antisemitism is alive in Idaho. In November and December, Boise police reported two cases of antisemitic graffiti, plus a neighborhood papered with antisemitic flyers.

Nobody has been arrested, sadly. And Boise Police Department Chief Ryan Lee told the Statesman that he can’t say whether this garbage was linked to similar flyer incidents in California, North Carolina and Maryland. But it’s been assigned to a hate crimes detective.

Boise Rabbi Dan Fink of the Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel told the Statesman that the Boise crimes are part of a swell of antisemitic activity across the nation. “Part of what’s concerning is that this is a cluster of events in a relatively short period of time, and what we’re seeing in Boise sadly isn’t unusual,” he said.

The (near) Idaho Potato flop

Nothing says “Happy New Year!” like drama over a giant fake spud.

Negotiating with the city of Boise in December, organizers of the (yes, slightly embarrassing) Idaho Potato Drop threatened to pull out at the last minute. They would move the New Year’s Eve party to Nampa, fools! Pushed for an estimated attendance, the Drop’s founder and CEO stalked out of a heated meeting with the city of Boise’s Special Events Committee. But not before he’d held up his hands and declared, “I think we’re good here — I think we’re going to move it out to Nampa. ... We’ve been working our asses off for a decade, and all we do is get kicked in the face.”

Drop the potato, not the mic. In the end, the ninth annual celebration took place outside the State Capitol in downtown Boise. Exactly where it belongs. (Nothing personal, Nampa, but as a bargaining chip, you’re small fry.) Let’s figure out how to keep the fireworks at the event rather than the planning meeting next year.

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