The 2014 Idaho Republican convention in Moscow was memorable, but not in the way many would have preferred. The process was so dysfunctional and even peripheral issues so contentious that the party was unable to build a political platform. Voters are left to wonder what the state GOP stands for. Some anti-government ideologues may have sought and relished the dysfunction that defied unity among delegates. Some political opponents probably thrill at the implosion. The fiasco generated both giddiness and grief. Takeaway messages are mixed.
At the national level, it helped cement Idaho's reputation as a haven for backward-thinking, naysaying obstructionists who are not serious players on the national stage, but colorful sideliners, so outrageous in right-wing entrenchment as to have become almost comic relief from increasingly serious matters of the day. Idaho and its citizens deserve better than that.
For Democrats, it opened possibilities that might not have seemed realistic prior to the Republican convention. The minority party has a chance to shift the longstanding political imbalance in Idaho in the 2014 elections. The challenge for delegates at the Democrats' state convention is to build a solid platform on issues that voters care about: revitalizing the economy and growing jobs through investments in education, health care and renewable energy technology, and policies that support a living wage; enhancing public safety and commerce by funding repair and maintenance of transportation infrastructure; and preserving natural resources that are Idaho's lifeblood and our legacy to future generations.
Libertarian and tea party constituents (likely excepting the convention chair, Congressman Raul Labrador) probably relished the lack of cohesion among rank-and-file Republicans. The inability of attendees to come together on common objectives increased momentum for proponents of puny government and factions that crave autonomy and abhor secular authority, even at the expense of the whole. They benefit from public disinterest, lack of factual awareness about issues and small voter turnout, which gives the advantage to stealth campaigns and the minority fringe. The challenge for the GOP is to demonstrate willingness to work across the aisle to do the work they were elected to do, for the well-being of our society and the planet.
Issues at hand are too important to fall victim to partisan bickering, ideological entrenchment, voter apathy or parliamentary shenanigans. Cutting taxes will not create an educated workforce or repair highways. Denying climate change will not produce drought-tolerant crops or protect communities from wildfires or floods. Rejecting common-sense gun regulations will not prevent mass shootings. Disregarding the needs of low-income families will not feed hungry kids or keep caregivers in the workforce. Refusing immigrants, same-sex partners and women the same rights as others will not strengthen society or cause self-serving discrimination to disappear. Funding prisons instead of social services will not cure mental illness or substance abuse. Nullification of the Environmental Protection Agency will not preserve the quality of water we drink or the air we breathe.
I grieve that some people think that might be so, and that moderate Republicans are losing traction within their own party. By its nature, the republic to which we've pledged our allegiance is a form of government that affords protections for the minority as well as the majority, and includes expectations of compromise and election of officials who represent myriad interests of the whole population.
I am hopeful that this year, Idahoans will elect open-minded problem-solvers who are willing to cooperate to get the work done and restore confidence in government. Let's see what comes out of the Democrats' convention later this week. The public is invited to attend - disgruntled Republicans included.
Nancy Chaney, of Moscow, has lived in Idaho since 1969. She served in local elected office from 2004-2014, including being elected to the Moscow City Council in 2003 and as mayor in 2005 and 2009. Her dad was a North Idaho Republican and her mother was a progressive independent.