I’ve had some interesting conversations with Idaho Republicans this week that spurred some thoughts. I’m not naming names because these were all off the record. I’m also remembering other such conversations during the recent election cycle.
I haven’t always been a Democrat, but after living here for a couple of years and learning something about public policy in Idaho, I decided to throw my hand in with the blue party. I became a blue girl in a red state. That does not mean that I vote what is sometimes called a “straight ticket.”
I took my first political science course at American River Junior College in Sacramento, Calif. Since Sacramento is the state’s capitol, I was lucky enough to have a young representative from the bay area, Leo Ryan, a Democrat, as my instructor. He had been teaching high school social science before being elected and just wanted to keep his hand in.
This was 1968. The far left was militant and often violent. It was hard to hold the center, but Leo tried. He told us that he often got letters from people who said they were members of his party that “scared the …. out of him.” He felt that they were harming political discourse with their actions. He was later elected as a representative to Congress and was killed in the Jonestown massacre.
He validated my belief that American democracy works best in the middle. There is a useful tension between those who want to do something (everything?) now and those who want to say, “let’s think about it.” The states I’ve lived in seemed to be like that. When I moved to Idaho, I began to realize that we were effectively a one-party state, so I chose the other party.
Why would I do that? Because public policy was being set in the conservative party heavily influenced by its far right and increasingly by its militant alt-right wing. I saw two legislators I admired, Leon Smith and Chuck Coiner, forced out of office by the right wing of the party as they purified party thinking toward what seemed to be a libertarian agenda. I saw a legislator who openly refused to pay income tax allowed to maintain his position. I saw a governor who called a special legislative session to take school funding off property tax revenue and onto sales tax revenue where it took a huge hit during the recession. He, however, enjoyed a smaller tax bill for the substantial property he owns in the state.
When only one political party is elected to most state and local offices, the party spends more time working out the influence of its members than it does in responding to the constantly evolving needs of the people of Idaho. An office holder can give lip service to constituents while only worrying if party leaders will support challengers in the primary elections.
Most Idaho Democrats pay scant attention to the national party’s maneuverings. We spend our time listening to our neighbors. We engage our community and look for solutions to pressing problems. We gather facts to make our case. We oppose legislation that does not seem to serve the greater good.
Idaho Democrats do not want to take your gun away unless you’re a criminal. Most are both pro-life and pro-choice. We want to spend enough on education through the university level to make sure our youth can succeed in the 21st century. We want to manage our lands and water resources well, but we also know that they can be used with regulation for economic development. We are committed to the best possible life for everyone in our state.
Responsible Republicans want much the same things, of course. However, a vibrant Democratic party adds new perspectives. Republicans must consider these when they run for office and govern. For the time being, Democrats can’t have an incestuous outlook in Idaho. We must be open to new voices and wary of dogma. These facts could change, and I’ll try to be responsive. Now, though, I’m an Idaho Democrat.