A Small but Engaged Electorate

I watched a large North Idaho county Republican Central Committee town hall meeting last week. Now I understand Idaho politics.

The hall was full, maybe a hundred citizens. It was a pleasant venue with a sound system and refreshments. The purpose of the meeting was to hear from “their” elected legislators. Since the county only had Republican legislators, the possessive might be used narrowly here. All nine showed up; the stage was as crowded as the hall.

I was struck how the speakers were cheered or applauded for the more extreme statement they could make. It was like the crowd wanted some raw meat, some blood. The elected leaders felt and responded to the pressure. Some statements were just plain not true; but they got no challenge. There were references to “the enemy” out there; I assumed they meant me, a Democrat. I wished I’d been in the room.

One State Senator I know well, a very conservative guy, made the most moderate and least volatile comments. I know his views, and we rarely agree, but I respected his demeanor. Maybe his measured speech reflected his seniority; he had served the longest of the group.

I was invited once to a County Republican Central Committee meeting in my legislative district. It was right after I got elected as a Democrat for the district. My goal was to represent the whole district, not just those who voted for me so I welcomed the invitation.

This was a business meeting, so I sat quietly as the chairman ran through business. Toward the end of the meeting the chairman offered her take on the recently completed legislative session, specifically praising a resolution to have all Federal Lands returned to Idaho ownership. She pointed out I had opposed this and asked if I wanted to explain my vote. I stood and thanked her for the opportunity. I told them how much I love access to public lands. I hunted and fished and got wood in the National Forest. The resolution I voted against had three references to “sale” of these lands. I pointed out how Idaho had 3 million acres of state land at statehood and now we’re down to 2 million, and more is sold off every year. I’m all in favor of managing our public lands with more state voice, but I don’t trust Idaho to keep public lands out of rich people’s hands who can lock them up.

The room was silent for quite a while. A voice in the back asked why I hadn’t tried to amend the resolution. Resolutions cannot be amended, I answered, you vote yes or no. The chairman thanked me politely for my response and I sat down.

I never got invited back. But I sure appreciated that invitation. Further, I think they heard me. At least I received no jeers or catcalls, no derision. It was a respectful conversation where folks disagreed. The second Sagebrush Rebellion has died down and Idaho is now exerting Good Neighbor authority in federal land management.

Whenever I had town halls, I always looked for republican faces in the crowd. I wanted all to feel welcome. And I didn’t want to just hear from people I agreed with. But that sort of representation is based on a balanced electorate, not a room full of the like-minded. Such can become a mob, and such is not responsible governance.

Idaho politics is not balanced. If politics interests you, get off your butt and get to a central committee meeting; I don’t care which party. We need to work together, and this dismal party system is what we’ve got for now. Make it work. You may find not all the folks who embrace your partisan banner make good sense either.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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