Conservatism took a turn in Idaho 30 years ago, starting the crack that has become the divide in the GOP. The screams of extremism and personal attacks now muffle the old calls for fiscal responsibility and reduced regulation. The Bonneville County GOP now considers itself the final arbiter of who’s a “real” Republican. The state’s supermajority has been poor stewards, and now they want us to look the other way while they run away with our state, all to fulfill the needs of the wealthy.
It all started as the Cecil Andrus days were coming to an end. The culture was gearing up as a group of Idahoans, formed by a man that had moved in from California, created Proposition 1. It was not just a war against sexual orientation. It was the rise of Christian activism. Republicans were leveraging the social example started in the late ‘70s, the standard set so well by GOP favorite Ronald Reagan. The perceived good versus the perceived evil is the beginning of creating the haves and have-nots.
Without classicism and loyalty, conservatism in Idaho became easy to chip away at. The party moved to create votes designed to measure the fealty of party partners and party leaders versus commitment to the party’s principles. The party cannot claim fiscal responsibility without focusing on the fundamental and foundational parts of our society that support it. We have missed the ability to see the growth in front of us and invest in schools and infrastructure that makes Idaho the great state it is.
The Bonneville County GOP doubled down on this example over the past decade. It started by positioning extremists like Barb Ehardt as the vanguard of harmful policies that do nothing to meaningfully support families. Today, instead of bringing in good community examples or conservative leaders, the Bonneville County GOP is venerating a named defendant to a lawsuit filed in federal court surrounding his role in the shooting of three men, two fatally, during the civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020, and a conspiracy theorist at its Lincoln Day Gala. Unfortunately, noted business leader Frank VanderSloot appears on board, as this event is happening at Melaleuca Headquarters.
Today’s GOP county and state party leaders are working toward creating a group of aristocrats using the language of Christian nationalism and denigrating the principles of democracy. They push bills that focus more on outrage, without looking at items designed to help Idahoans’ daily lives. They have announced their fealty to the Idaho Freedom Foundation, run by out-of-state residents. Now they want to decide who is conservative enough to be a part of their party. Just let it be known that the Democrats will happily accept the castaways.
It is time to look hard at what is in front of us. The GOP traditionally has been the big business party. However, the chain of evidence tells a different story. In business, when something is well-funded and has a substantial market share, signs point to success. However, we live in a state with a supermajority that cannot get its own priorities passed. The state and its people continue to be negatively impacted as a result.
Dan Barker is a leadership management consultant and the vice chair for the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.