Donald Trump last week threw a bomb into the middle of Idaho politics, and it is likely to explode in stages that begin this coming week.
This next week, of course, marks the return of the Idaho Legislature, at a time of year when the legislature does not meet. At least not ordinarily. The truth is there’s no reason at all they need to convene now since the regular session is set to begin inside two months, nor is there any legal certainty that whatever they do will hold up in court, but all that seems to be beside the point.
This session won’t be about governing the state or setting policy as much as about the venting of emotion.
And one of the emotional levers to how that plays out was put in place by none other than the nation’s foremost bomb-thrower, Donald Trump.
The former president made Gem State news by endorsing the primary election challenge of Janice McGeachin (“a true supporter of MAGA”) to incumbent Republican Governor Brad Little. That has significance in a state Trump won easily last year and where he appears still to be highly popular.
Little has been no centrist critic of Trump; he has gone out of the way and contorted himself imaginatively to praise him, joined in a visible photo event (concerning state regulation) at the Trump White House, and in recent days flew to Mar-a-Lago (on the taxpayer’s dime) to participate in events there. His office maintained that he was on state business, but come on: Can anyone seriously buy that? This was an attempt to pick up campaign support, or maybe deny it to the other side; that’s what Idaho taxpayers underwrote. (Little would be smart to have his flush campaign reimburse the state.)
The whole thing, with the capper of Trump endorsing McGeachin instead, may stand as the most embarrassing political moment of Little’s life. It must have given unbridled joy - and maybe a jolt of energy - to those in Idaho Republican politics who aren’t Little fans. McGeachin is better off than she would have been if Little had just stayed home. A side question: Was her trip paid for by her campaign, which would be OK, or the taxpayers? Inquiring Idahoans should want to know that too.
But this is not only about McGeachin, who likely will be presiding over the state Senate this week. This session is coming about as it did partly because Little has declined to call one, and partly with the idea of blasting away at him and his allies, including the top-line business community at the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (which is critical of calling the session). Or, on the coin’s other side, you can call this a MAGA session.
The session’s major topic (there could be minor ones, including possible disciplining of a legislator) concerns the state blocking local organizations, including businesses and hospitals, from enacting safety measures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yes, that’s why they want to meet.
How strong would the emotional pitch be when the legislature hits town?
Considerable, with McGeachin pushing (as she has) for the session and its proposed agenda, alongside implicit backing from the MAGA commander in chief. Even better (antipathy to the opposition being more important than support for a person or idea): They’ll be hitting town with the specific idea of passing bills Governor Little is going to want to veto. Whether he’ll dare to, or whether his vetoes would be sustained, remain serious questions.
The juice for the session is surely higher now than it was a week ago. By one report, more than 30 pieces of anti-anti-pandemic legislation have already been submitted to the Idaho House for consideration.
A three-day session? The chamber leaders doubtless want it quick and done, but they’ll have to be very lucky to see it wrapped that fast.
Reverberating explosions are likely to follow in the upcoming regular session and in the primary campaign season immediately following that.
This period was going to be a rugged one for Idaho in any event. The former president just made it a lot more explosive. It’s what he does.