Have you ever been asked, “What’s wrong with Idaho’s politics?”
I have. It’s a question I’ve heard from out-of-state friends as well as life-long Idaho residents. It usually references the state’s perpetual political shift to the right.
It’s not uncommon for this shift to be explained by Californication. In other words, it has been caused by conservatives from California moving to Idaho in search of an anti-government utopia.
The political diaspora has brought to Idaho people like Ralph Lillig, the ex-Orange County cop who fought an anti-discrimination law in Pocatello as if his life depended on it. But it’s also fueled a self perpetuating cycle where mistrust of the government is continually validated.
In Idaho, we have our own positive feedback loop. It goes like this: Anti-government voters elect anti-government politicians who do a bad job at governing, which intensifies the voter’s anti-government feelings.
The results are predictable. We get bad government.
So what’s wrong with Idaho politics? The answer is, “A self-validating escalation of bad governance.”
Item: Paranoid attitudes of government overreach kill a bill to designate the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian.
Item: In 2008, when the federal government introduced enhanced ID cards to battle terrorism, Idaho politicians on both sides of the aisle not only rebuked the new ID, they passed a law prohibiting the department of transportation form issuing the ID. Now, if lawmakers don’t undo what they’ve done, anybody without the enhanced ID cards will not be permitted to board an airplane in 2016.
Item: In 2013, the Idaho Legislature created an interim committee to study the transfer of public lands. Months later, the Attorney General’s office told them the scheme was baseless. Committee members hired an outside attorney at $410 per hour, spending $66,000 to hear the same advice. Now, committee members want $750,000 for one year and $250,000 in perpetuity to continue their misguided quest.
Item: Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador was a member of the far-right-wing Congressional Study Committee until Jan. 30 when Labrador and eight of his colleagues announced the formation of the House Freedom Caucus. Why the new group? Because it’s further to the right than the far-right Congressional Study Committee.
Item: House Speaker Scott Bedke, swooned by Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s visit last month, hinted that he may support a bill requesting an Article V constitutional convention, a device of the far right of this country to bypass Congress in amending the Constitution. The last such assembly occurred in 1787.
Item: Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise introduced a bill Monday that would prepare Idaho for an Article V convention.
Item: For two years, the Idaho Legislature has dragged its feet on expanding Medicaid, which would provide nearly 70,000 Idaho residents with health coverage. Doing so would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars while saving tens, if not hundreds, of lives. Why won’t the legislature act? The extreme right hates the Affordable Care Act and anything associated with it.
Item: With the state’s education system still reeling from years of funding cuts and a transportation infrastructure in dire need of money, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter says in the State of the State address that he wants to prioritize tax cuts for top income earners.
Item: After two terms in office, Gov. Otter finds himself embroiled in two scandals. One concerning a state correctional facility and another one over an internet contract.
Item: Rep. Paul Shepherd of Riggins introduced his second bill in as many years to nullify environmental laws that require dredge miners to get permits before they scour the bottom of the Salmon River for gold. Last year’s bill was summarily dismissed because it violated the Constitution.
If the people who elect you into office think government is bad, and you’re elected because you campaigned on the notion that government is bad, why not give them bad government? It’s a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop that explains why Idaho’s elected officials continue to become less effective and less concerned about making a positive impact on the lives of average people.
After all, looking at their track record, who wouldn’t think government is bad?