Although the GOP continues to be the party of Donald Trump, at least one prominent Idaho Republican has put the former president in his rearview mirror.
Tom Luna, the state’s Republican Party chairman, is not distancing himself from Trump by any means. He’s just focused on other matters, such as preparing for the next election and expanding the GOP’s base in one of the nation’s fastest-growing states. On the Trump-front, all is peaceful in this state, with Idaho’s two House members voting against impeachment and the two senators voting for acquittal.
“As a state party chair, we’re looking at a year from now,” Luna says. “We’ll be in the middle of a primary election campaign and we will be recruiting candidates to make sure we have quality people running.”
Republicans, as usual, have a lot of success stories from the last election, with Sen. Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher winning by wide margins. The GOP, which was expected to lose some seats in the Legislature, ending up gaining some.
But Luna warns that Democrats also have made gains, with 2020 numbers increasing by about 100,000. “The Democrats are a growing party. We exceeded our previous numbers as well, but we shouldn’t assume that the future is going to continue to be bright if we take our eye off the ball.”
The party’s strategy is simple: Grow the base and reach out to the throngs of people moving into the Gem State. Luna offers plenty of selling points. “We have the No. 1 economy in the country and a huge surplus when most states are experiencing a fiscal downturn. When the Legislature goes home, we will see historic steps to invest in infrastructure and parental choice in education. The first time they hear about the Republican Party will be from one of us. We have a strong economy and quality of life and it is built on the principles of the Republican Party.”
Luna knows that the politics can change, especially in a growing state.
“It wasn’t too many years ago that Colorado was considered a safe red state,” he said. “But it all flipped, literally, in just a few short election cycles. What’s similar to Idaho is that Colorado is a fast-growing state. Democrats came in with resources and began to engage. They are doing the same thing in Idaho.”
Luna wants a unified party that focuses on core principles such as a smaller government, fiscal responsibility, strong families and second-amendment protection. “Anybody who believes in those values are welcome to be part of this big tent. The biggest threat to what we value is not our fellow Republicans, but the liberal socialist agenda that the Democrats are unashamedly now embracing and not even trying to hide.”
One of Idaho’s leading Democrats, House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel of Boise, has a far different viewpoint – based on divisions she sees with the GOP.
“A big tent is not what I think about when I see that,” she says. “It seems more like an effort to purge anybody who is not towing the line. If our senators had voted to acquit, they would have been very rapidly on the receiving end of some very vicious censuring from the state party.”
Rubel sees more Republicans than Democrats moving to the state, but attitudes can change over time. She says that the Democratic Party is the place to be if people are looking for a middle ground politically.
“It could take some time, maybe a year or two to see, but a lot of people will realize that the landscape here has shifted to the far right,” Rubel said. “In time, people will be dismayed to find that we are 50th in education, don’t offer full-day kindergarten and are only one of four states that don’t have early childhood education. In time, they may find that the Democratic Party is closer to their liking than the Republican Party on bread-and-butter issues.”
People such as Luna and Rubel will give new Idahoans something to think about when they move to the Gem State, and a lot of political philosophy to process.
When the welcome wagon comes, newcomers shouldn’t be alarmed to see elephants and donkeys on their front lawn.