pnid_Square_Transparent_64Last Tuesday, Governor Otter told the Idaho Press Club that he didn’t think Idaho’s anti-gay reputation hurts business in Idaho.

It isn’t true. Discrimination does hurt Idaho’s economy. It doesn’t just hurt the people being discriminated against, Governor Otter. Discrimination, and the negative reputation it gives to Idaho hurts the ability of our businesses to compete in a challenging economy. Discrimination hurts every hard working Idahoan who is trying to make ends meet.

Idahoans believe in showing respect for other people. Idahoans believe in ensuring that everyone is treated fairly. Idahoans want an economy that works for everyone and gives people an opportunity to work hard and get ahead. Defending discrimination goes against Idaho values and hurts Idaho business.

The economic research does not support the Governor’s backward-looking claim. A 2013 report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law reviewed 36 separate research studies showing LGBT supportive employment policies were good for business outcomes. Another 2011 study from the Williams Institute examined the top 50 Fortune 500 companies and the top 50 federal government contractors. Almost all (92%) of those companies stated that diversity policies were good for their business.  The majority (53%) were able to draw a specific and positive connection between policies prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and their company’s bottom line. These companies provide the types of good jobs that we need to bring to Idaho.

Idaho income is shockingly low. We are last in the percentage of workers earning only the minimum wage and second to last in average annual wages. According to the Idaho Department of Labor, we rank 50th in the nation in per-capita income. Only Mississippi has seen fewer wage increases in the last seven years. Idahoans cannot afford more bad decisions from our Governor and our Legislators that hurt our businesses and damage our economy.

In an article just published in Boise State’s “The Blue Review,” Bill Morlin reports that “many Americans, influenced by a deluge of media reports over the years, continue to associate Idaho with neo-Nazis [and] the Aryan Nation” but that “[n]o one is willing to estimate how much the image issue has cost the state or its businesses.”

Idaho’s anti-gay reputation is starting to earn us the same sort of negative publicity all across America that our neo-Nazi reputation once did. Idaho continues to show up in publications around the country mentioned in the same breath as phrases like “the new face of segregation” and “the new Jim Crow”. It does not take much imagination to see that this critical image problem keeps talented individuals and companies away from our great state.

Former Governors Batt and Kempthorne were wise to fight Idaho’s reputation for bigotry, and to try to limit the damage that reputation did to Idaho’s economy. We need a governor who will actively fight the discriminatory reputation of today so that our businesses and our economy are not held back. Contrary to what Governor Otter may think, this is an issue that hurts every Idahoan with every paycheck we receive.

Governor Otter told the Idaho Press Club “I still have to govern in this age,”  but he is actually governing like it is 1964. Discrimination, in whatever form, is bad for business. Idahoans know that. Idaho can do better.

Jason Hudson
Executive Director
Better Idaho

Published in the Coeur d’Alene Press on February 26th, 2014. Follow the link to see the OpEd and comments.