Idaho has never been perfect but over the long haul Idahoans have generally been practical in their politics and tolerant in their dealings with one another. Idaho Territory was given life by Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Statehood followed in 1890. Idaho residents were concerned with real problems–getting the Gem State up and running, bringing water to the arid soil, establishing businesses to serve the natural resource industries and setting up a government that would operate with a light, pragmatic hand to do what individuals could not accomplish on their own.
I have followed Idaho politics since 1966, when I cut my teeth in the re-election campaign of former Republican Senator Len Jordan. With glitches here and there along the way, we have done a pretty good job of working together to advance our common interests. Things occasionally got contentious, but throughout the 20th century there was a live-and-let-live attitude amongst Idahoans, both in the personal and political spheres. That has largely disappeared in this new century.
In recent times Idahoans have been turned against one another by disruptive out-of-state actors. I attribute it to two main factors–the influence of extreme-right media outlets, primarily Fox News, and the closure of the Republican primary in 2012. Fox has fueled fierce culture wars over imaginary issues that are designed to fill its corporate bank accounts. Fox talking heads have spewed out a wide range of misinformation on fake issues to increase its viewership by sowing fear and outrage.
For just one instance, Fox host Tucker Carlson practically invented critical race theory as a nationwide issue in September 2020. With the help of extremist groups like Idaho’s Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), the hysteria spread to Idaho in 2021, resulting in the passage of a confusing law that will eventually be found unconstitutional. There have been so many similar issues that Carlson and other Fox troublemakers have invented to inflame viewer anger that it is hard to keep up.
Perhaps no issue has grabbed more public attention than the Fox lies regarding the 2020 election–that Donald Trump actually won the election. Despite failing to produce any evidence to back up the false claim, Carlson and others have flogged the claim on a continual basis for the last two years. That is, until Fox had to answer for its election lies by handing over 787.5 million dollars to a voting machine company for those falsehoods. That, plus the fact that Fox faces an additional gigantic liability to another voting machine company for those lies, might explain why Fox just canned Carlson.
The other factor that has influenced the toxic nature of Idaho politics is the closing of the GOP primary election in 2012. It was intended to result in a much more conservative Republican Legislature and it has succeeded beyond belief. Just a small minority of Idaho voters have a say in who serves in the Legislature in most districts of this one-party state. Since the extremists have captured the party machinery in most counties, an even smaller group of voters is able to elect the most extreme candidates in most districts.
Extreme right groups like IFF and the Idaho Family Policy Center, which engineered the recently enacted transgender medical care prohibition, took their lead from Fox to interfere with the family medical decisions of this bullied population. It would never have been possible without the extremist-controlled Legislature brought into being by a primary system that allows a minority of Idaho voters to control a majority of the seats in the state’s law-making body.
I’m dreaming of a day when Idaho can return to its roots as a tolerant place where people are willing to live and let live. An Idaho where a minority is no longer able to capture the governmental machinery and employ it against the majority of Republican, independent and Democratic voters. It will all start with eliminating the closed GOP primary. That time may be closer than many suspect.