Stapilus: What is Idaho? | Columnists


Just 10 years ago, after blogging for a few years, I was invited by an editor in Twin Falls to take over writing some of them as weekly columns. In the decade of doing this, I remember how things were back then.

That first column, from May 2012, just before that year’s primary election, seems relevant for consideration now. Some of the names and roles have changed, but the basics seem to be holding up after a decade (especially with the primary elections just past and state party conventions underway).

Does that mean Idaho is what Idaho was? Maybe not entirely, but partly, with some gaping distinctions and more similarities. You decide. Here is the chronicle of ten years ago:

Whatever the Republican Civil War in Idaho may be this season, it’s not about “conservatism” — whatever that word may mean. It’s not about “philosophy”.

Almost all of the Republicans vying for statehood or more in Idaho this year are low-budget, low-tax, strictly Christian-oriented, business-supporting candidates. In the scheme of things, their differences are far less than those between, say, traditional Methodists and traditional Presbyterians. There is not much daylight.

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Even though the view here is that the term “conservative” has been so misused that it is beyond any coherent meaning or repair (almost like “liberal” in this sense), nomination contestants Republican in Idaho this year are, overwhelmingly, a cohesive group — more internally, ideologically cohesive, than, say, the comparable cadre of Republican candidates in Washington or Oregon. In the agenda, they should all be allies.

But it turns out to be a nasty insider bombing season, in which incumbent lawmakers from the same party – even co-members of the small ruling group – throw (financial) bombs aimed at politically destroying their colleagues with whom they are almost always vote of agreement in committee and in the room. How to make sense of this?

Much of this is likely due to the fact that there are so many of them, that the Democrats are such a minor opposition that they find it hard to get excited about them (at the state level, that is). -say). And those personal dislikes weigh heavily. It is also likely that the primary turnout will be lower and that it is possible for activists to have even more influence than they have had.

There is, for example, a concerted (and complex) effort by House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Majority Leader Mike Moyle to defeat their fellow leadership, Ken Roberts. (This is made clearer by donations of campaign money than by public statements.) Moyle’s comment: “My goal is to make Ken’s life miserable because he makes my life miserable.”

It’s certainly not because Roberts’ positions on the issues and voting record are more than microscopically different from Moyle’s or Denney’s. It is easier to declare that the opposition is somehow “less conservative”; but don’t expect anyone to explain to you what it actually means.

This happens through a series of interlocking PACs, which some reports include the Victory Fund, Idaho Land PAC, Gun PAC, Free Enterprise PAC, Idaho Association For Good Government (aka Nonini PAC), and Idaho Chooses Life.

And, says a Spokesman-Review blog entry, “Supports are being given and taken, two Kootenai County GOP groups are vying for the right to invoke Ronald Reagan’s name, and independent groups are mounting their own campaigns, either boosting or denigrating various GOP incumbents under names like Free Enterprise PAC and Idaho Prosperity Fund.

This is a serious conflict, as a number of political struggles are at stake. But what do they have to do with ideology?

Only this, apparently: some activists seem to be all-out, seeking extremes and interested in throwing bombs wherever possible, especially from inside the legislature; and others are more interested in relatively stable governance. A difference in approach and vision of the world, certainly, and in attitude too.

But conservatism? Not unless an entirely new definition is developed and commonly accepted for a word already degraded almost beyond its meaning.

Randy Stapilus is a former journalist and newspaper editor from Idaho and blogs at He can be contacted at [email protected] His new book “What do you mean by that? just released and can be found at and on


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