Tuesday, September 26, 2023

OPINION: Will Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde control the soul of Idaho’s Republican Party?

by JIM JONES/Guest opinion
| December 16, 2022 1:00 AM

The serious split in the personality of the present-day GOP in Idaho was demonstrated in two articles that recently appeared in the media. The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, savoring its evil Mr. Hyde persona, announced on Dec. 8 that U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) would keynote its Lincoln Day Dinner in February. The very next day, Rep. Mike Simpson evoked the good Dr. Jekyll when explaining his vote for the Respect for Marriage Act.

The idea that the KCRCC would so horrendously insult the legacy of the father of the Republican Party by inviting his exact opposite to speak at an event bearing his name is hard to fathom. Where Abe Lincoln stood tall for unity, dignity and American values, Rep. Greene stands for insurrection, white nationalism and QAnon conspiracies. She will bring disgrace to the Gem State by her very presence.

The KCRCC, which is commanded by John Birchers and Idaho Freedom Foundation functionaries, speaks for a significant, but extremely vocal, minority of today’s Republican faithful. It carries great weight in the area, whether working to destroy North Idaho College, hamstring primary and secondary education or create havoc with fake culture war issues. It and its counterparts across the state have managed to capture an outsized share of the Party apparatus and they are intent on total control.

Mike Simpson is representative of the other branch of the Party, someone who rose through the ranks of the GOP as a pragmatist with traditional Republican values but the ability to work across the aisle. I met Mike in 1984, when I was Attorney General and he was running for the Idaho Legislature. Governor John Evans and I were working furiously that year to help elect legislators in our respective parties who would support our joint effort to keep Idaho Power from controlling the Snake River. I supported Mike because he was favorable to that cause. He proved to be an exceptional legislator.

Mike was elected to Congress in 1998 and has been the only member of Idaho’s Congressional delegation to actually be a leader — to stick his head out from time to time when he feels strongly about an issue. He worked hard to establish the Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness, despite strong opposition from many in the GOP. He proposed a bold plan to save Idaho’s anadromous fish runs, despite vociferous, but false, claims that it would harm Idaho’s water interests. He voted to certify President Biden’s election, but it should be mentioned that both Idaho Senators did likewise. And, he was the only one in the delegation to support the Respect for Marriage Act.

On the other hand, he has made some infuriating votes and uttered some indefensible words, particularly during the Trump era. Still, if Idaho can look to anyone in the delegation to help lead the Republican Party back to a position of responsibility in the state — to play the good Dr. Jekyll role — he is the best bet in the delegation. Here at home, Governor Brad Little is the one we must look to in resisting the destructive Mr. Hyde role being played in Idaho politics by the likes of KCRCC and its counterparts across the Gem State. He has good instincts but needs to speak and act more firmly.

There is a civil war currently going on for the soul of the Republican Party in the state of Idaho and it will take strong leadership from both state and federal officeholders for the Dr. Jekyll side to prevail over the Mr. Hyde troublemakers. Idahoans should encourage Little and Simpson to speak out more forcefully for what is right and take the necessary action to accomplish it in order to make Idaho a true Gem of the United States.

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Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho Attorney General and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court. He is a regular contributor to The Hill.

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