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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