Hartgen: GOP 'litmus test' letter is still a bad idea
A Conservative Perspective

Hartgen: GOP 'litmus test' letter is still a bad idea

  • 2

The purge-driven ayatollahs now currently atop of the Idaho Republican Party have resurrected a flawed idea from the past in sending candidates a demand letter on their positions on party platform issues.

But this time, some common-sense conservatives are pushing back. Good for them, Let’s hope the “purge” effort fizzles.

Demanding party loyalty on platform issues was a flawed idea years ago when first tried by some GOP rightists. Many GOP legislators weren’t comfortable then, but didn’t want to stoke internal partisan fires, so they just went along. “What’s the point,” asked one at the time.

But in the very nature of human nature, this acquiescence had only emboldened the oppressors. As President John Adams wrote, “When clear Prospects are opened before Vanity, Pride, Avarice or Ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate Philosophers and the most conscientious Moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves, Nations and large Bodies of Men, never.” (Adams letters, Dec. 17, 1814)

This time, the pushback is more vocal. In early April, a group of mostly eastern Idaho GOP party members wrote a respectful letter to state GOP chair Raul Labrador stating “How can rank and file members of our party feel like they can identify with a party which holds to a very strict litmus test? Surely, there is room in our party for conservatives who may disagree with interpretations of the platform.” (Idaho State Journal, April 2)

That’s the essence of it. GOP rightists want to purify the party by driving out other voices. To them, it’s worship the GOP platform or you’re “out the door.”

The current litmus test letter starts warmly enough, with “Dear Candidate.” It refers to a GOP platform plank called “Integrity in Affiliation.” Labrador’s letter (March 16) then raises the GOP platform with the Idaho Constitution. It makes no mention of the U.S. Constitution as the “Supreme Law of the Land” to which we all pledge allegiance.

The party platform and the two constitutions are very different in tone and intent. The Idaho Constitution dates from statehood in 1890 and outlines the structure of Idaho government, its duties and empowerment. It also specifically states that Idaho is part of the United States and shares affinity with the U.S. Constitution, 1787.

By contrast, the party platform document has an implicit assumption that government is evil by nature and implies that Idaho Republicans can ignore both constitutions at will.

It’s really nothing more than the long-discarded “state sovereignty” argument, a common theme among the befuddled who use it to hide their intent to willfully disobey laws they don’t like. This “nullification” argument was, in theory, ended by the Civil War. Now, some current nullifiers in the state GOP openly want to resurrect it.

The platform, for example, deals with non-Idaho issues like the United Nations, demands a return to a gold standard currency and an end to direct election of U.S. senators.

These diatribes reduce the GOP platform to nothing more than a sheaf of polemics, passed at selected gatherings by narrow margins of stacked, right-wing activists and crank-nuts who then pretend that they are the “voice of the people” above the constitutions and the legitimately-elected legislators of House and Senate. In short, it’s been debased to right-wing ire and rants, little better than a poorly-reasoned high-school term paper.

Notice how these oppressors always put “their” own rights first; no room for the common good. It’s always about what’s good for them. They want unlimited individual rights, but draw the line at common values. “Just leave me alone.” “You guys fix the roads, educate the children, help those in need? Protect all in a medical crisis? Nah, not me.”

How did Idaho politics of the Republican Party get to this point of such extremes? It began when rightist, ideological individuals began taking control of local central committees.

Having defeated Democrats throughout the state, they then turned their constant social anger against their own members, with internal “purges” through RINO callouts, social media smears, false position blames and similar tactics. This happened in several Idaho counties and is still occurring today.

The new effort apparently stems from Labrador and vice-chairman Bryan Smith, an arch-conservative lawyer from Idaho Falls, as well as the Beck brothers, Rod and Doyle. These are so-called “libertarian” politicians who apparently hope to undercut duly-elected Gov. Brad Little, who defeated Labrador in the 2018 primary. They snipe at both Little and the Legislature, fed by fake-ratings from the Idaho Slavery Foundation and assorted media blabbers.

Party loyalty oaths have long been part of American political history, and they usually play out negatively. First, they drive centrist, common-sense members to the opposition. Democrats in Idaho, for example, have driven away thousands of voters with their environmental extremism and pro-abortion positions.

Those pushing litmus tests for GOP purity in Idaho today are either defeated also-rans in primaries, or self-inflated media and extremist partisan puff-ups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Wayne Hoffman, who couldn’t get elected dogcatcher, yet continually rails on government “tyranny.”

This is of course, nonsense. By all measures, Idaho is among the freest states in the freest nation on the planet. The real tyranny here is the tyranny of thought control these anarchists want to impose on others.

No “Big Tent” party for these guys. If you’re not signing on to the platform, you’re not a “pure” Republican. This is indeed horse-puckey. Idaho citizens and voters value their real freedom too much to assign it to such a “diktat” Politboro of whiners and malcontents.

When he was picked as party chair by only a three-vote margin, Labrador promised he would reach out to the whole Idaho Republican Party. A “litmus test” demand takes the party in the opposite direction.

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


Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Idaho’s structure of electing governors and LG’s completely separately — different from many states which bind them together — allows for the office holders to come from different points of view.

For future historians and artists who'll chronicle today's health and economic crisis, one humble item will stand out as the chief cultural emblem of the times: wearing a mask. Or not.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.


That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.


No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News