Small news organizations in rural states aren’t often on the front line of broad public service journalism, but times are changing and one-or-two person shops can make a lot of difference in public awareness of issues if things come together.
It takes courage and often abuse from opponents and groups which don’t like to see their roles exposed, but it’s a long journalistic tradition, updated with modern tools like Facebook postings and blogs which spread information far and wide.
That’s what’s happened this spring in the coverage of the GOP primary and how buckets of money have come into Idaho to protect some rightist incumbents and try to elect others. Good conservative GOP candidates have had enough of being smeared as RINOs and held out as “anti-freedom” and “anti-constitutional.”
There’s plenty of good political reporting being done in the state by traditional news outlets, including the re-branded Idaho Press (Nampa) and the Post-Register, (Idaho Falls) and some on-point reporting and editorializing and columns as well in the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho State Journal and the Times-News.
But with traditional newsrooms shrunk by half or more in a decade and the Coronavirus pandemic drying up local print advertising support, there’s a limit to what well-meaning editors and reporters can accomplish. So readers have had to turn to other sources.
That’s where IdahoConservatives.com and EastIdahoNews.com have played particularly important roles. Even though the primary results won’t be known until June 2, it’s apparent that these two small Eastern Idaho entities have led the way in exposing practices and patterns which ought to embarrass Idahoans across the whole political spectrum. IdahoConservatives.com, for example, has published article after article on how out-of-state money has poured into the state to help retain or elect rightist legislators and candidates who dance to the tune of special interests.
Their recent story by Stephanie Mickelsen (5/14) showed how hundreds of thousands of dollars (Yep, big bucks) has been spent by out-of-state, California and East Coast shadowy rightist groups to elect right-wingers in Idaho’s legislative districts. Jennifer Ellis (5/15) has contributed many a fine report on who these out-of-staters are and what they want in little ole’ Idaho. (It’s simple: You dance with those that brung ‘ya. Or put another way, you take the King’s shilling, you fight the King’s wars.)
The EastIdahoNews.com (Nate Eaton) has been reporting for months on how self-serving GOP big-money oligarchs have figured out how to milk folks by jacking up medical collection fee services. The practice has poured fees into the pockets of Idaho Falls GOP rightist Bryan Smith and his lawyer, Rep. Bryan Zollinger, and is being curtailed only after Frank VanderSloot of Melaleuca said he’d seen enough and helped push through new laws to limit the fleecing.
Amazingly, some legislators told VanderSloot they supported sideboards on these practices (EastIdahoNews.com, 4/27) but couldn’t buck the Idaho Freedom Foundation and others on the vote. (It passed with 20 “no” votes, mostly from rightists, HB 515.)
These groups care not a whit for Idaho, which they can barely locate on a map; their goals are national policy changes to legalize marijuana and reap its profits, undermine public pension plans, defund public education, promote hair-brained anti-medicine “cures” and manipulate currency trading for their own profit. They want young people to be able to swagger around the state almost everywhere with firearms, including in schools and courthouses.
They already have the ears of some Idaho legislators with the help of fringe groups like the Freedom Foundation, the III 3 Percent toy-militia group, and others.
Idaho has a long tradition of relatively straightforward politics and relatively little of the special interest and insider promotion. Mostly, legislators go to Boise with their constituents’ best interests at heart. As it should be.
But we also seem to have an assortment of groups which are using Idaho’s legislative forums to advance their own goals. These folks then put their cronies in state GOP roles and have managed to drive away many centrist Republicans who, not surprisingly, decide they’ve got better things to do with their time.
The upshot is a worm-holed GOP party structure and angry ANTIFAs of the right making threats against police officers and scoring bills before they’re barely heard. It’s these Saul Alinskys on the right who benefit from the disorder and chaos.
The solution to these extremists is an informed electorate, but voters aren’t always up on how they’re being manipulated. We Idahoans are sometimes just too trusting, believing that candidates and incumbents always put our interests first. Tain’t necessarily so. That’s where a good watchdog press can play a vital role, even more so in this virtual age. This spring, a tireless press in the state, led by these smaller entities, has shown the way.
Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” This column was first published in www.idahopoliticsweekly.com. He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com
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