For those of you who followed the Special Session, if your response was similar to mine, you were greatly disturbed by what happened.
I’m not talking about the legislation that was passed, although I have concerns with that, as well.
I’m talking about the behavior of the citizens who “came to participate” in the process. Whether they were anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, anti-government militia members, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Idaho Freedom Foundation supporters, Bundyites, some other extremist group or some combination of them, they gave us plenty about which to be concerned in the years ahead.
During the Special Session, they shoved their way past Idaho State Police officers, broke a window in the Capitol, demanded that legislators kowtow to their views, bullied their way into committee rooms, and refused to leave when their actions violated rules of decorum. In short, they behaved like anarchists, not members of a democratic republic.
They are a presence with which we must reckon, and we better do it soon. They are gathering power and influence while thoughtful members of society either ignore them or convince themselves their ideas are so lacking in merit that nobody will take them seriously. Either approach is a mistake and will lead to these groups gaining more influence with policy makers to Idaho’s detriment.
Thus far, politicians, political parties, and elected officials have made little effort to understand these groups, their goals, and their methods. These groups have little patience for our democratic institutions, our legislative processes, or public criticism. They have little use for experts, science, data, or logic. And they have little interest in dialogue, compromise, being respectful of others, or exercising compassion and empathy.
In short, they reject our form of government and our society’s way of thoughtfully solving its problems.
During my time in the military in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when people would hear I was from Idaho, they would say in response either “potatoes” or “Aryan Nations.” That was what they knew about Idaho. Those two things. One brought pride, and the other brought immeasurable shame.
It took us years to rid Idaho of the Aryan Nations and even longer to cleanse our great state of the reputation that came along with their stench.
Today, Idaho has become a destination for young professionals seeking fair wages and challenging jobs, young families who enjoy the lifestyle provided by our access to public lands and water, and retirees seeking a sense of community and belonging. When I think of the progress we have made, I am filled with hope for our future. But I also recognize we are at a turning point.
If we do not take action now to push back against these groups, Idaho will be saddled with what could prove to be an even more harmful reputation and, just as importantly, we will find our democratic institutions damaged beyond repair. Idaho’s employers will struggle to attract the best and brightest to their doors. Our children and grandchildren will choose to leave, building their futures in states with “less crazy” on display and more compassion for others.
While many who associate themselves with these modern agitators may just be lost or misled, there is ample evidence that a strong current of racism and authoritarianism fuels the movements. The bottom line is we cannot stand idly by and let these groups gather power. It is happening. For the sake of Idaho’s future, it must be stopped.
James Ruchti is a Pocatello attorney and West Point graduate. He previously served in the Idaho House from 2006-10 and is running unopposed for the Idaho House in November.