Leave it to former Gov. Phil Batt to provide a sane voice of reason to a controversial social issue. He played the role of a statesman marvelously during his years in political office and he is just as relevant today as he encourages his fellow Republicans to “add the words” in the battle to end discrimination against gays.
Batt made a compelling argument in a recent op-ed that appeared in the Idaho Statesman. As Batt accurately points out, Idaho continues to feel the sting of the practicing Nazis in North Idaho. Large corporations, such as Hewlett-Packard and Boise Cascade, are rightfully concerned about Idaho’s negative reputation in regard to human rights.
But Batt’s reasons go beyond economics and politics. In his op-ed, he wrote about two of his grandchildren who were gay, or sympathetic to gay causes, and found success – in another state.
“These young folks love Idaho and I wish they lived here so that I could see them more,” Batt said. “However, they will never make this their home again as long as we maintain our distain for people who are ‘different.’”
The biggest battle that Batt and other proponents face is the mentality of his fellow Republicans in the Idaho Legislature. Batt’s thinking in more in line with Idahoans in North Idaho who successfully fought against the Aryan Nations, the Nazi group that settled in the area, and worked hard to restore that area’s proud image. Unfortunately, it’s people such as Rep. Lynn Luker, who seem to take their lead from the likes of the late George Wallace – the old George Wallace of the segregation era. Luker might as well be saying, “Discrimination now, discrimination tomorrow and discrimination forever … in the name of religious freedom.” All that’s missing from Luker’s rhetoric is a southern drawl.
Legislators should realize two fundamental concepts as they ponder this issue.
Discrimination in any form is wrong – whether it’s on the basis of age, race, gender or sexual orientation.
Idaho looks pretty stupid in continuing to tolerate discrimination against gays. Attitudes are changing even in Arizona and that takes some doing.
If Arizona can change, then so can Idaho. Years ago, Idaho was a white-knuckles holdout in acknowledging Martin Luther King Day as a holiday – which turned Idaho into a national laughing stock. The embarrassment ended in 1990, with the courage of Sen. Lee Staker of Idaho Falls and leadership of Senate President Pro Tem Mike Crapo.
The same kind of courage and determination can turn the tide on the “add the words” debate. Republicans may not listen to former Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour, who seems to widen the partisan divide every time she opens her mouth. But they can, and should pay attention to the words of Phil Batt, one of the great Idaho statesmen of our times.