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OPINION: Democrats look to broaden appeal

by CHUCK MALLOY
| July 15, 2022 1:00 AM

Are you a Republican who is fed up with the right-wing direction of the GOP? Are you tired of the party’s ties with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the National Rifle Association and Donald Trump?

If so, then Rep. Lauren Necochea of Boise — who chairs the Idaho Democratic Party — cordially invites you to join her party, which has a center lane for those who want to increase the state’s commitment to education while seeking property tax relief.

Don’t be too quick to proclaim 2022 as “the year” for Democrats. Until further notice, Idaho is a red state that is filled with people who think that a turn to the right — if not the far right — is the way to go for the Gem State. There are folks in rural communities, and some places to the north, who would rather vote for Putin than a Democrat.

In the first decade of this century, Democrats briefly held a congressional seat and they traditionally put up a good fight in the race for state superintendent of public instruction. Aside from that, Republicans have owned the big races.

Necochea, a native Idahoan who was elected to the party’s chairmanship in March, doesn’t need a political history lesson. And as the assistant minority leader of the House of Representatives, she’s well versed on the issues — along with the struggles that Democratic legislators face working in the minority.

Her approach is to build, opposed to living in the past. And she welcomes disgruntled Republicans to her camp.

“We’re already seeing that,” she told me. “We’re seeing Idaho Republicans who don’t recognize their party anymore and they share with common-sense Democrats on solutions they want to advance. As the Republican Party becomes more extreme, we feel we have a moral imperative to work even harder to change the trajectory of the state.”

Necochea offers no argument to claims that this year’s legislative session, marked by political posturing and intense fighting between the executive and legislative branches, was the worst in the state’s history.

“Something is off when you see legislators talking about jailing librarians, jailing health-care providers, taking away people’s voting rights, outlawing ballot drop boxes, and making it a felony to help your elderly neighbor with their ballots. I’ve never seen a more blatant extreme Legislature.”

And Necochea is just in her second term.

The Idaho Senate over the years has been the stopping point for some of the hardline initiatives. But as they say in baseball, wait until next year. After this year’s primary election, the Senate is likely to be tilting more to the right.

Only Democrats can stop the craziness, she says. “Democrats need to be elected to stop some of the worst extreme bills. Republican extremism is only growing, but Idaho voters are not that extreme overall.”

On the congressional level, Democrats are running their typical slate of smart and well-spoken candidates — with almost zero name recognition. It’s hard for them to defeat well-funded Republicans who have been around for decades.

“It is a challenge when you have these lifetime politicians who have been around forever and have name recognition because they have been around forever,” Necochea said. “That means we will have to out-work them, knock on more doors and raise more funds to deliver our message.”

Abortion rights is not an issue that works in the Republican Party’s favor — at least in Idaho. But there has been strong negative reaction, and some protests, to the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Up to now, the Supreme Court has protected rights granted under Roe v. Wade. Now it’s legislators who will be able to interfere with personal decisions, and potentially banning certain types of birth control,” she said. “People are waking up to what’s at stake and that Democrats are the only party standing up to protect women’s rights.”

Whether there’s enough people “waking up” to sway the outcome of an election is another question. Idaho has a long way to go before shades of purple seep into this deep-red state.

But Democrats are, to their credit, making a noble effort in their year’s campaign.

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Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com

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