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Hangin’ in

The absolute assertion in today’s lead Salon article that Madison County, Idaho – and notably its main city, Rexburg – is “the reddest place in America,” is open to some dispute. We can cite a county or two in Idaho that may statistically surpass it, and elsewhere around the country there may be a few more. But that feels like a quibble; certainly you’ll not find many places more Republican in 2006 than the home of the Brigham Young University-Idaho, an institution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Rexburg cityHave been there many a time over three decades, we can testify that writer Tim Grieve well captured the political nature of the place. Anyone interested in why much of Idaho, including much of eastern Idaho, is as it is, would do well to read it, though Rexburg sets somewhat apart from most other Idaho communities by virtue of the presence of the explosively growing BYU-I, which is just as conservative if not more so than its parent, BYU in Provo, Utah.

Grieve might be interested to know that, though Rexburg has for a century and more been overwhelmingly Mormon (recent estimates put the church’s portion of the population at well upward of 90%), it has not always been single-party. A generation ago it regularly elected Democrats alongside Republicans to the legislature and courthouse, and one of the leading families in town, in local politics and as owners of the local paper, were staunch Democrats. But those days appear to be past.

As this passage indicates:

And perhaps the results are preordained because of the monolithic influence of the Church of Latter Day Saints. As BYU-I English professor Dawn Anderson tells me, it’s important to understand that most voters in Madison County are Mormons, and that “everything of a political nature” has to be understood in that context.

“The climate surrounding faithful membership in this organization is not always conducive to challenging authority,” she says. “People here are reluctant to openly criticize the president and his administration, even if they privately disapprove of his job.” And many of them don’t disapprove, even privately. “After 20 years of teaching Mormon students, I’ve learned that the majority of them have little knowledge of issues outside the Republican platform. They only know that Democrats are lesbian baby-killers.”

She’s not being figurative. Anderson also recounts: “She remembers the time when a group of classmates followed her third-grader home, shouting out ‘baby-killer’ all along the way. She took it up with the teacher, who didn’t seem to mind.”

Anderson (who is a Democrat) doesn’t go on to say whether the BYU-I students, when they cast their votes, genuinely feel they are casting well-informed votes. But in this particular college town, such a concept takes on a framework all its own.

If Idaho largely remains, in this year of the blue wave, determinely red, there are reasons.

CORRECTED to change the name of publication to the (correct) Salon.

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