Living in Idaho means having access to everything from the city to the farm to the backwoods. But living in Idaho also means that your government is a bit unhinged.
Let us start with the governor, Butch Otter. The man with the comical name that I could not invent even if I tried is lackluster on his best days. Married into a rich family and later divorced. In the 90s he remarried a woman half his age: a 24 year old pageant queen - Idaho's representation in the Miss USA contest. Since winning the 2006 election for governor, he has mostly rested in his popularity from previous positions as Lieutenant Governor and US Representative. When he has made an effort to do something, he acted with the sense of a kindergartner (example: refusing to sign any bills until the legislature passed a roads bill that he wanted).
Otter's second and third terms have been defined by failure and controversy. He backed the awful Luna Laws that voters soundly rejected. He has wasted $80,000 of tax payer money trying to fight the court's rulings on gay marriage. Even worse than all of that, he has been embroiled in scandal and accusations of crony capitalism. His attempt to privatize a state prison earned the nickname "Gladiator School" and is being investigated by the FBI for all sorts of charges; falsifying reports, allowing the gangs to control the prison, and purposefully under-staffing the guards. The Idaho Education Network was formed under his lead with the intent was to connect every high school in Idaho to high speed internet - including remote rural schools. However, contracts given to his out-of-state campaign donors even though a local company pitched a better service at a lower price. His actions resulted in a lawsuit (the state lost) and the courts determined that the previously awarded contracts were done so illegally. Again, this cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
At best, Governor Otter is incompetent. At worst, he is manipulative and vindictive; possibly criminally corrupt.
This brain trust doesn't stop at the top. It works its way down to lower offices. Remember our Superintendent of Public Instruction? Yes, the one who won her election despite her bout of dishonesty, plagiarism, and lack of experience.
Or the former State Representative (and tax protester) Phil Hart who owed the IRS half a million dollars and tried multiple times to claim legislative privileges to evade his court battles.
Or the toe-tapping former US Senator Larry Craig who was arrested for lewd conduct in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, eventually pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Despite being charged with misuse of campaign funds in an FEC lawsuit and court ordered to repay over a quarter million dollars in fines, Larry is now employed by the Idaho Republican Party as the financial chair of their executive committee.
Or former State Senator John McGee who got arrested for a DUI and grand theft auto after he stole an SUV with an attached towing a trailer; he went for a joy ride eventually crashing in the front yard of a Boise neighborhood. Despite his criminal charges, the senate took no penalizing actions against him and he was able to retain his position as caucus chairman. He finally resigned seven months later amid charges of sexual harassment.
Granted, those last three are all in the past. The current state leadership however is still filled with dolts of their caliber. Our current legislative session has been filled with disappointment.
Perhaps the most glaring evidence of their inadequacies is the refusal to recognize the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian due to paranoia of federal government overreach. Their actions crushed the dreams of the eighth grade student who has spent the last two years lobbying the state on behalf of the giant salamander.
Since the legislature began this current session, they have spent more time giving a proverbial middle finger to the big bad feds than they have attempting to resolve real problems facing our state. Rather than addressing education for our kids or providing support to the disabled in our community, Idaho's lawmakers are attempting to nullify federal law and claim possession of federal lands. They often ignore the advice of our Attorney General. They ignore the voices of the people who come to testify, send them emails, or call their offices. As for the many lawsuits that the state is fighting, our leaders have chosen to seek private lawyers rather than use the attorneys that are employed by the state - which means we're paying for legal representation twice. This GOP dominated government is redefining fiscal conservatism in horrifying ways.
I've become adjusted to the loony nature of our state's governance. After all, there isn't much I can do except wait for the next round of elections and hope my vote against these morons is not the only one.
Then the past few days happened. It must be a slow news week elsewhere in the nation because the idiocy of the Idaho GOP has made headlines from sea to shiny sea.
Both news stories broke on Monday.
First, while a doctor gave testimony, Rep. Vito Barbieri asked her if a gynecological exam could be performed by a woman swallowing a tiny camera. Anyone who has sat through a junior high anatomy class should be able to answer that question. Vito is an odd character. He is often confrontational during session and rude to anyone who provides input contrary to his political leanings. In response to the backlash against him, he claimed the question was rhetorical - which is likely. But it does nothing to further his cause. When you ask a stupid question like that, it undermines your argument. His back up excuse after the "rhetorical question" claim was that he was taken out of context. Of course, it is hard to be taken out of context when you are quoted word for word.
The second story revolved around a proposed resolution for the Kootenai County GOP Central Committee. This resolution asked for Idaho to declare that it is a Christian State - that "The state of Idaho and all its institutions will render full recognition to the Christian basis thereof, not permitting any diminution or rejection of its status nor any restriction on its presence or role in the public arena." Forget that the first amendment of the US Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion. Forget that Article I section 4 of the Idaho Constitution also protects religious liberty stating "No person shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship, religious sect or denomination ... nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship." But hey, who cares about the law?
Supporters claimed that the resolution was significant because we live in a time where Christians are persecuted in countries like Syria. They forget that the Christian church was founded during a time of persecution, that the first churches often met in secret, that the Roman government often subjected early Christians to torture and executions. They forget that there have always been nations where Christians are a persecuted minority and that the church often thrives in the midst of open persecution. They forget that Jesus told his disciples that they would be insulted, slandered, and assaulted because of their faith, that they would be blessed for the ways they are mistreated. One committee member backing the Christian State resolution had the gall to say that the republican party is a Christian party. It is as if the God they believe in is smaller than politics or belongs to only a single party.
Times like these make it hard to enjoy living in Idaho. Maybe I need to take a evening walk along the Centennial Trail again to watch the sun set over the Spokane River and remember why I love this place that I call home.
Because, if you ignore the troglodytes that govern this state, it really is wonderful here.