House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel of Boise has an invitation for those who are fed up with right-wing politics, or the continued divisions within the Republican Party.
“Join the Idaho Democratic Party,” she says. “We are the party of common sense. The goal of our leadership is to be the adults in the room.”
Well … let’s be honest. Idaho is not about to become a blue state, or even the lightest shade of purple, anytime soon. Former Gov. Cecil Andrus made serious inroads in the power structure, helping the Democrats to a tie for control of the Idaho Senate in the early ‘90s, but the Gem State quickly swung back to the Republican side after that. The Republican stronghold seems secure, with the new people moving to Idaho being at least as conservative as those who live here.
But with the constant strife within the GOP – between the libertarian wing and those traditional Republicans who are not viewed as “not conservative enough,” it shouldn’t be surprising to see Democrats trying to attract those who are more centrist in their political thinking.
“People who were Reagan Republicans or Romney Republicans should be thinking hard about whether they should be switching over to support Idaho Democrats,” Rubel says.
Today’s Republican Party is not the GOP that existed 30 years ago, she says. “Republicans used to stand against government overreach … you don’t have the government micromanaging every aspect of your life – telling you how to raise your kids, what clothes to wear or what books to read. The Democratic Party is opposed to all of that. We’re very much in favor of freedom of choice.”
She chides Republicans for spending so much time on issues such as banning drag shows and certain library books. Democrats, she says, are more focused on the basics – such as making sure bridges are safe, that roads are repaired, that schools are providing a good education and that teachers are being decently paid.
“That has been our agenda all along,” she says. “Of course, that’s tough to penetrate through the right wing, because they have a much bigger megaphone. What we’re bringing is middle-of-the-road stuff that just about every Idahoan would support – providing hearing aids for deaf kids, sealing court records for non-violent minor offenses so people can get jobs and housing, loan forgiveness for teachers to go to rural areas and dental coverage for those in extreme poverty.”
Rubel suggested this year’s session would have been more productive if the Legislature approved Gov. Brad Little’s budget in January, then gone home. Of course, nothing like that was going to happen. And the drama is continuing with Republican central committees calling out legislators for actions that violate the party’s platform.
Rubel says such activity does not happen on the Democratic side.
“It’s profoundly inappropriate,” she says. “These folks were elected by the people in their districts, not the central committees. Who needs to have elected officials if all they are supposed to do is be a rubber stamp for the party central committee, or the state chair? You might as well have a robot there.”
Democrats get called out by pro-life advocates for “extreme” positions on abortions. But Rubel argues that people, at least on that issue, would be better served under Democratic policies. Idaho women, and fetuses, are not served well by Republican-led bans on abortions, which already have driven some doctors and specialists out of the state.
“The perception is that Democrats want abortions through the eighth month, and that’s total nonsense,” Rubel says. “Even with that, there are extreme health conditions that even the most pro-life of people would support for an abortion – finding out there is no skull or brain, or no possibility of a fetus surviving. But they have the microphone. They control talk radio and the right-wing news outlets, and we get very few opportunities to defend ourselves.”
And those dynamics won’t change at any point soon; the culture is on the side of Republicans, regardless of the brand. But Rubel makes convincing points to folks who are more in the center of the political spectrum – the ones who do not have the loudest voice in the political process.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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