It’s hard to keep up with the firehouse of nonsense spewing from Idaho’s legislature. One bill aims to outlaw sanctuary cities despite there being none in Idaho. Another would prohibit the use of student IDs for voting, supposedly to prevent the nonexistent problem of voter fraud by out-of-state students (that left-leaning Idaho students would also be prevented from voting is incidental, I’m sure). One bill aims to prevent libraries from issuing pornography to minors because, as we all know, when teens are looking for smut they put down their smartphones and head to the library to read. Yet another bill would prohibit ranked-choice voting which, again, has never been attempted in Idaho.
One proposed bill would reinstate firing squads — urgent business in a state that has held 29 executions in its entire history and only 3 since 1976. The House seeks to legalize private armed militias, presumably to address a lack of gun violence. They also want to criminalize the administration of COVID-19 vaccines, with no justification offered because, obviously, there is none. There’s an anti-trans bathroom bill in the works, of course. The Senate also seeks to ban schools from teaching about sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity before fifth grade despite the fact that comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual education has been shown repeatedly to reduce teen pregnancy and STDs, delay the age at which youth first sexually experiment, and provide children with the knowledge and vocabulary necessary to protect themselves from sexual predators.
Another bill would repeal the Medicaid Expansion despite the fact doing so would cost Idaho $78 million, cause 145,000 Idahoans to lose coverage, and betray the Idaho voters who overwhelmingly approved the expansion.
Speaking of which, the Idaho Senate has also proposed a new constitutional amendment, SJR101, to exact revenge on their voters for having the audacity to participate in their governance. The amendment would make similar initiatives logistically impossible by requiring physical signatures from 6% of voters in every single county, collected in under 60 days, just to get on the ballot. When Idaho legislators previously tried to enact this legislatively, the Idaho Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. But, our legislators are so committed to keeping Idaho residents out of Idaho government that they’re now attempting to rewrite the constitution.
Lastly, after a hard-fought battle last year to secure more funding for our public schools (most underfunded in the nation!), our legislators are working to ensure that money ends up anywhere else. Their ESA voucher program, offered under the auspices of “school choice,” would funnel tax money away from rural counties that only have public schools and give it to families already wealthy enough to send their children to unaccountable private schools in urban centers. Everywhere such voucher programs have been attempted, they’ve lowered test scores, bled money from public schools and blown holes in state budgets.
But facts, reality, and the will of the voters be damned. Why try to solve actual problems when you can offer fantasy solutions to the made-up grievances of the Fox News universe?
The GOP has no meaningful vision for our state, but if they did Idaho would apparently be a land where everyone is armed at all times, education is only for the wealthy, people regularly die of preventable diseases, schools and libraries never challenge anyone’s thinking, queer people don’t exist, teens are constantly pregnant without knowing why (or being able to do anything about it), and voters understand that their proper role in a democratic government is to shut up and obey. Pre-Civil War America, in other words.
This legislation is still being debated. Hopefully, the most idiotic proposals will fall by the wayside. But in this political environment, it’s all too likely that much regressive, harmful legislation will indeed become the law of the land. Such is the inevitable result of a politics based on propaganda, paranoia, grievance and fear. As long as politicians are chosen based on outrage rather than ability, and there is no meaningful electoral competition, demagoguery will prevail and actual problems will go unsolved. I wish I could say we deserve better.
Urie is a lifelong Idahoan and graduate of the University of Idaho. He lives in Moscow with his wife and two children.