Idaho’s far right wants to renounce federal funding despite what that will do to their state

As elsewhere, a civil war is raging within Idaho’s GOP — between far right and even farther right. There are very few Democrats in Idaho. It’s a place where Ammon Bundy is fixin’ to run for governor (although he probably won’t be elected). The current fight is between people who still somewhat resemble Republicans, as we used to think of them, and people you pretty much have to describe as secessionists (but their leader isn’t Bundy).

It’s a place where the Republican governor left the state for a couple days, the Republican lieutenant governor issued executive orders in his absence, the governor immediately countermanded them upon his return, and the lieutenant governor is fixin’ to run against him in the next primary.

In a state where Democrats are only 12% of registered voters, you’d expect the political fights to pit Republican facts against each other, and that’s how it is.

Let’s say the Even Farther Right faction prevails. In that case, a lot of federal money goes away, because one of their core beliefs is that if you refuse Washington D.C.’s money, they can’t tell you what to do. ABC News calculated that under their program, Idaho would lose nearly two-thirds of its Medicaid funding and nearly half of the total state budget. “Federal money,” ABC News says (here), “helps pay for schools, health care and roads.” A big chunk of which would go away, if Idaho’s Even Farther Right Republicans get their way.

Idaho’s GOP legislators have already killed $40 million of federal funding for Covid-19 testing in the state’s schools.

I looked up why Idaho is so conservative, and always has been (it hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, when Barry Goldwater lost the state by only 2 points), and a liberal who has lived there says (here) it’s because of three things:

“1) Idahoans are loners. This was the last American state to be explored by settlers, and has a history in individualist industries like mining and farming. It’s underpopulated, vastly wild (over 60% of Idaho is public land), hard-to-reach and isolated. And Idahoans like it that way. Whether it’s Fish & Game agents regulating hunting, the Feds closing brothels, or Uncle Sam taking away their hard-earned cash, Idahoans tend to mistrust anything coming out of Washington DC. Far-away legislators don’t have any idea what living here is all about, and so Idahoans want to limit federal power to the fullest extent possible… a legitimate mind-set which aligns them nicely with Republicans.

“2) Idahoans are whiteOverwhelmingly. In much of the state, spotting a black or Asian face on the streets is an event. And in recent American political contests, white people have tended to vote Republican.

“3) Mormons. A lot of Mormons live in Idaho, having emigrated up from Utah. Some cities in the southeastern part of the state are over 97% Mormon. And those are guaranteed Republican votes.”

But perhaps the most interesting thing he says is they don’t mind liberals or even gay people:

“Jürgen and I are unrepentant liberals, but I never felt unwelcome in Idaho. Locals truly embrace the live-and-let-live attitude, and we never encountered any unpleasant situations, even when conversations veered toward politics or our homosexuality. If any of the people we met disapproved of us, our views or our lifestyle, they politely kept quiet and treated us as equals. Idaho might be extremely conservative, but as long as you respect the Golden Rule, it’s also an extremely easy place to get along.”

As long as you respect the Golden Rule. Which is, treat other people the way you want to be treated. Maybe the rest of these Disunited States could learn something from that.

As a final note, I’m also curious why Mormons are so completely, totally, and unmovably “ruby-red” Republican.  In Mormon-dominated Utah, which like Idaho hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since the 1964 LBJ landslide, history also is deeply embedded in the state’s political psyche. There, as in Idaho, people “were fiercely independent.” (Which is no surprise to anyone even vaguely aware of Mormon history.) But Utah’s heavily-Mormon population was singularly influenced by a single man, Ezra Taft Benson, who was both a politician and a Church president; a fervent anti-communist, Benson swung the Church’s members to the far right in the 1950s and 1960s. Read about that here.

Like the people in Idaho, the people in Utah can teach us something. Mormons are famous for their family values, and emphasize on family ties, and they’re nice people. I wouldn’t become a Mormon or join their church, but I don’t mind at all being around them, and would feel safe living in a Mormon-dominated community. Utah’s most prominent politician, Mitt Romney, is one of the few nationally prominent Republicans who isn’t a shrieking banshee these days. He represents a kind of live-and-let-live Republicanism that characterizes the western conservatism that has evolved in sparsely populated, self-reliant, former frontier states.

It’s not a kind of politics that necessarily works in teeming cities, which are dominated by Democratic voters and policies. And I wouldn’t want to live in a community starved of funding for health care, education, and roads. (To put things in perspective, government pays for roughly half of America’s health care, most of its education, and all of its highways and roads.) Rejecting federal funding for those vital public services makes no sense to me. It seems emblematic of how an irrational fixation on “culture wars,” which are replete with unimportant and made-up issues, has overwhelmed rational discourse about things that matter in places where Republicans dominate public policy.

I’m pragmatic and oriented to solving actual problems. Idaho’s Even Farther Right Republicans’ attitude toward federal funding and public services doesn’t threaten me, in the way that insurrection or overthrowing elections does, so if that’s what they want to do in their state, it’s okay with me. But I wouldn’t want to live there.

Photo: Over 60% of Idaho is public land, and despite conservatives’ antipathy toward federal control, most of Idaho’s residents like it that way (read that story here)

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