I can recall a time many years ago when I was proud to call myself a Republican. The Party had many leaders with vision and a dedication to sound public policy. Governor Bob Smylie strongly supported education and was able to get a sales tax enacted in 1965 to better fund Idaho’s public schools. My boss in the early 70s, Senator Len Jordan, supported civil and voting rights for all Americans. Former Governor Phil Batt was a supporter of human rights and good government.
During my service as State Attorney General in the 80s, Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the malicious harassment law and Terrorist Control Act, both of which were aimed at white supremacists. During that timespan, Republicans were conservative to moderate, but truthful, pragmatic, reasonable and honorable.
The present-day Republican Party has strayed so far from those roots that it is almost impossible to recognize. The dysfunctional performance of so many Republicans in the last legislative session drove reasonable folk to despair. Because so many in the GOP refused to support reasonable measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, many Idahoans needlessly died.
Two Republican officeholders are doing their level best to smear Idaho teachers and schools by falsely claiming that school kids are being indoctrinated. Rather than listening to Idahoans who say they are wrong, Lt. Governor McGeachin and Rep. Priscilla Giddings have fawned over a far-right conspiracy theorist who claims schools are pedaling Communism and pedophilia.
Both of these indoctrination theorists are running for higher office where they could wreak much greater havoc on the Gem State. McGeachin hopes to attain the Governor’s office with the help of her extremist friends in Real 3%ers of Idaho. Giddings will have to convince voters that it is fine for a would-be Lt. Governor to disclose the name of a teenage rape victim, lie about it and defame the victim. To their credit, responsible Republicans like Rep. Greg Chaney of Caldwell have acted to call her to account for her inexcusable conduct.
Another candidate for governor on the GOP ticket is Ammon Bundy, who was famously seen being arrested and bundled into a police car, tethered to an innocent office chair, for disrupting proceedings in the Idaho Legislature. The chair was released without bond but Bundy was subsequently convicted and banned from the Capitol grounds.
These are just a few of the misfits that Republican primary voters have unleashed upon the State. I do not contend that all of those voters are as flawed as many of the GOP candidates who prevail nowadays in primary elections. There are numbers of Republicans who are greatly distressed by the people sent to Boise by their fellow party members.
There are several reasons why candidates like McGeachin, Giddings and the top 15 or so on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s “freedom Index” prevail in primaries. The closed Republican primary often produces the candidate who is able to move farthest to the right on the political spectrum. Generally, the primary does not produce a large turnout, which favors the committed radicals.
Also, the party machinery has been taken over by political zealots, making it difficult for worthy candidates to step forward. A prime example is the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, which recently approved a resolution supporting the wacko John Birch Society. That would never have happened years ago. The Birchers were famous back in the 60s for claiming water fluoridation was a Communist plot. They continue to be wild conspiracy theorists.
Unless the Republicans who are concerned about the direction of their party take action to cleanse their ranks, the legislative dysfunction will continue or even worsen. This next primary election could be a wonderful opportunity to cull the herd. Although I became a committed independent in August of 2002, when it became clear that Cheney and Rumsfeld were going to take the country to a disastrous war in Iraq, I still vote in the Republican primary and will be there to help the reasonable Republicans take back their party.