By Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise
People told me something I’ve never heard before as I was knocking on doors last year: “Stop the crazy!” Voters are concerned about increased extremism and inflammatory rhetoric in the Idaho Legislature: a fear-mongering alphabet soup of acronyms (CRT, SEL, DEI, ESG, etc.); witch hunt task forces; and punitive laws that deliberately defund institutions and can throw ordinary citizens, doctors and librarians in jail.
The results of the 2022 November election appears to have revealed a schism within Idaho’s majority party: longtime traditional Republicans versus a new crop of leaders who advocate an extreme and uncompromising definition of what it means to be a “conservative.” This new faction has begun to aggressively attack the other. Lifelong Idaho Republicans are now repeatedly called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).
These extremists have taken control of the state party. They wrote a party platform that includes absurdities such as taking away your right to vote for your U.S. senator and giving it to the Legislature (repealing the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution), and systematically acquiring gold and silver metal because paper currency has no real value.
Perhaps the most visible sign of this schism is pressuring all Republican candidates to sign a loyalty oath to this new party platform (called “Integrity in Affiliation”), which states: “I support the Idaho Republican Platform and accept it as the standard by which my performance as a candidate and as an officeholder should be evaluated.”
This draconian “my way or the highway” attitude is kicking many loyal, lifelong Idaho Republicans to the curb. They are being shunned by a party that is rapidly moving away from them.
I believe in our republican form of government. My job as a legislator is to represent my constituents, not party bosses or a party platform written in a back room by political insiders. It is not my job to write laws that punish people who don’t agree with me.
To determine how the political landscape has changed, one must use proxies such as “score cards” published by ideological organizations, endorsements by extremists, and what individual legislators have actually said and done.
Taking these factors into consideration, Idaho now has a virtual three-party system. This is what the composition of the Senate and House may now look like: Democrats (blue), Traditional Republicans (red) and Extremists (yellow). Several of my Republican colleagues have confirmed this to be a reasonable depiction. Actual votes cast can often skew even more to the extreme as some hope to protect themselves from influential forces that align with the Extremists.
Some of the Extremists have formally affiliated themselves with the “Freedom Caucus” in Washington, D.C. Others have been officially designated to turn the 2022 Idaho Republican Party platform into laws that will rule over the lives of every Idahoan.
Robert Caro, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, has written about people who wielded great power in the public sector. We are all familiar with the expression, “Power corrupts.” Caro has a different perspective on this:
“But although the cliché says that power always corrupts, what is seldom said … is that power always reveals. When a person is climbing, trying to persuade others to give them power, concealment is necessary. … But as a person obtains more power, camouflage becomes less necessary.”
You will soon get to see what “power reveals” as the growing number of Extremists — and their backers — exert themselves during the 2023 legislative session.
It won’t be pretty.
Steve Berch is a first-term Democratic House member representing District 15 in Boise. He serves on the Business, Education and Local Government committees.
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