Guest Opinions

Podium, Martin Peterson: Nothing new under the sun in Idaho politics

Recent actions by some of Idaho’s politicos have attracted attention and comment both within Idaho and in the national media. People who have followed Idaho politics over the years might not have liked what they saw, but they shouldn’t have been surprised.

The first was Rep. Vito Barbieri’s lack of understanding that the female reproductive and digestive systems are not one and the same. It was the statement that launched a thousand jokes across the country, making it one of the most far-reaching actions to take place in the Idaho Legislature this year.

But Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, wasn’t the first Idaho legislator to be confused about female reproduction. In the early 1980s, Bill Moore served a stint in the Idaho Senate. Like Barbieri, he was a California transplant who moved to Kootenai County and gained election to the Legislature. During debate on an abortion-related bill, Moore famously stated that there was no reason for an exemption for cases of rape, since a woman who had really been raped couldn’t become pregnant. Given their similar backgrounds, hopefully the fault lies with their California roots rather than being a reflection of the thinking of their Idaho constituents.

Next comes the outcry over Idaho’s two U.S. senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, affixing their signatures to a letter to Iran’s leadership concerning the Obama administration’s negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. The letter originated with freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and was co-signed by 47 GOP senators. It’s not the first time that Southern cotton has divided our country. But for Idahoans, there should be little surprise about members of Idaho’s congressional delegation being involved. The stage was set for this decades ago.

In 1977, Idaho Congressman Steve Symms traveled to Libya to negotiate with dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who was known as the “mad dog of the Middle East” and an enabler of international terrorism. Symms and Gaddafi both wanted things that they thought the other could help them get. Gaddafi wanted to gain access to a shipment of U.S. military planes for his armed forces. Symms wanted to gain access to Libyan markets for Idaho agricultural products. Both efforts failed.

Speaking of Iran, let’s not forget about Idaho Congressman George Hansen and his solo diplomatic efforts with the country. In 1979 revolutionaries took control of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. Similar to the feeling of today’s 47 Republican senators concerning executive branch negotiations with Iran, Hansen didn’t like what the Jimmy Carter administration was doing to free the hostages. In fact, he proposed that President Carter be impeached over the issue.

So Hansen made a solo trip to Iran to negotiate with the Iranian government for the release of the hostages. He wasn’t successful; for the most part, he was viewed as something of a nut, which shows how times have changed. Following in the footsteps of Idaho’s two congressmen, 47 senators now see it as the role of Congress to get directly involved in executive branch negotiations with foreign governments. Who knew that eventually Symms and Hansen would be setting the stage for future actions in U.S. foreign policy?

Finally, there is the refusal of three Idaho senators, Nuxoll, Vick and Den Hartog, to sit through a prayer offered by a Hindu cleric. Again, no surprise here. Religious intolerance is nothing new in Idaho. The roots of the state were firmly anchored in religious intolerance. In 1890, Idaho adopted a constitution that prohibited a large part of the state’s population from voting based on their religious beliefs. Mormons had some religious beliefs that non-Mormons found offensive. Not unlike the three Idaho senators finding Hinduism offensive.

But it is unfair to target just these three senators for religious intolerance. In 1982, Idaho voters were given the opportunity to amend the constitution and remove the Mormon voting prohibition, which hadn’t been enforced for decades. While the amendment was approved, over one-third of all of those voting — more than 100,000 Idaho voters — were opposed. It was a sad statement on religious intolerance in Idaho.

The next time something done by an Idaho politico strikes you as strange or offensive, don’t be so sure that it is anything new or original. With a little bit of research, you can generally find that the stage was set long before Idaho’s current crop of elected officials ever took office.