Hartgen: Party Fault Lines Splitting Idaho’s GOP
A Conservative Perspective

Hartgen: Party Fault Lines Splitting Idaho’s GOP

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It’s not unusual for differences of opinion to form within single-party states like Idaho where the dominant political party tests who’s the “purest” of the pure within the party.

But what’s unusual this year in Idaho is the pushback we’re now seeing within the state GOP over the long-term direction of the party and whether the tensions will lead to reconciliation or a running battle for control.

Two upcoming events this month and in June will gives some indications. First, the primary on May 19 pits numerous common-sense candidates against a number of ideological ranters vying for party control through legislative seats. A rejection of extremists will signal an important turn, So will the reverse.

And the upcoming GOP convention in June will pit the common-sense group against the rightists of some party leaders and extremist Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

McGechin has taken a lead role in recent weeks, rallying advocates of civil disobedience and presenting herself as an alternative to Gov. Brad Little in 2020.

She has aligned herself with the “tear down” side of Idaho politics, playing danced partner to such fringe groups as Idaho Freedom Foundation, the Second Amendment Alliance and the toy-soldier militia group known as the 3 percenters.

These absolutist, extreme groups are united in their hatred of governance. They’re our own rightist Idaho ANTIFAs. They have some support among backbench legislators, like the “hell no” loud-mouths of the British Parliament.

In a recent newsletter (5/4), McGeachin sees herself as their voice and in a comment, says her relationship with Gov. Brad Little as “tense.” (IdahoPress, 5/5. There’s nary a word of working with Little for Idaho’s common good.)

No kiddng. She’s gone from working together to outright party warfare. Little has tried to show her respect, but she seems determined to undermine him at every turn.

Idaho’s political history doesn’t favor McGeachin’s confrontational approach. Idaho doesn’t require its political candidates to be on the same “team.” We’ve even had different parties, as when Gov. John Evans, a Democrat, worked well with then Lt. Gov. David Leroy, a Republican in the 1980s.

For those who know her, McGeachin’s “hard right turn” politically reflects her unleashed ambition. I served with her in the House where she was a follower, not a leader.

In her run for Lt. Governor, she was under 29 percent of vote and finished a distant second third across most of southern Idaho. (Sec. of State, GOP primary returns, 2018.) Like flamed-out candidate Bill Sali from the far-right, she won only the extremist votes, mostly from remote counties.

Idaho voters, over time, haven’t shown much appetite for kooks leading the state of the GOP, so the May 19th primary and the June GOP convention will give good indications whether voters will tolerate much more of such rants and luster.

McGeachin’s break from Little as an advocate for disobedience is not likely to play well in that regard.

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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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.

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