Stephen Hartgen

Stephen Hartgen

Ever bought a Powerball lottery ticket in the hopes of winning a huge jackpot? An Idaho resident from Star won $200 million some years ago, and just last week a Nevada man won $50,000. He drives to Twin from Ely every two weeks to shop in the Magic Valley and play in Idaho’s Powerball. Neither Nevada nor Utah has a Powerball game, so he comes here.

No more. This past week, a small group of Idaho legislators — just 10 House members, two-thirds of the State Affairs Committee — voted to scrap the popular Powerball draw, which generates about $14 million specifically for Idaho public schools. Poof! Gone!

No more lines of cars up from Utah to Southeast Idaho towns as the pot grows week by week. Gone, too, are the surges of traffic at virtually every convenience store in the state.

We don’t play the lottery much, but when we do, it’s with the fervent if distant hope of a huge winning payout. Admit it, so do you. Indeed, says lottery director Jeff Anderson, an estimated one half of Idaho adults play at least occasionally. That’s a lot of people. The revenue to Idaho from Powerball totals almost $30 million annually, of which about half goes directly to Idaho public schools. It’s been that way for three decades. Now, gone!

So why would a handful of Idaho legislators suddenly deep-six a money-making and popular enterprise? Mostly, it appears, out of fear. Ever alert to internationalist “threats,” the naysayers were led by arch-rightist Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who questioned whether opening the game to Australia and Great Britain would lead the way to support of other countries’ gun restrictions.

Canadian residents can play now and they’ve got stricter gun laws that the United States, so it’s hard to see how Idaho’s sovereignty would be impacted by adding these two other countries to the pool of potential players.

No matter, don’t let facts get in the way of a decision. Despite Anderson’s explanations, the rout was on. In the end, 10 committee members voted to kill Powerball in the state. Two Republicans, James Holtzclaw and Rod Furniss, and two Democrats, John Gannon and Chris Mathias, voted to keep Powerball in Idaho, but it wasn’t enough.

The lopsided vote reflects the effects of group-think and ideological conformance now being practiced in the Idaho House by narrow special interests with their own agendas. Out-of-state money and “dark funds” poured into selected legislative contests, for some candidates and against others who are dubbed “Rinos” by the ideological extremists.

Some members are pushing back at this group-think agenda control. In a recent newsletter, Rep. Scott Syme wrote, “I have said this before and will say it again. I don’t vote based on a score or a grade. No lobbyist owns me, especially the Libertarian lobbyist that scores bills. I am a Conservative Republican not a Libertarian. From the Libertarian Platform, Libertarians believe my rights are more important than yours, ‘all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and are not forced to sacrifice their values for the benefit of others.’ Abortion they are pro-choice: ‘we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.’ Sex trafficking: ‘The Libertarian Party supports the decriminalization of prostitution.’ These statements are not Republican values and that is why I don’t value their scoring. I vote based on what is good for Idaho and what I believe the majority of my constituents want.”

So are long-time lobbyists, who decry the turn to ideology over practical solutions to real problems. “Meanwhile in Idaho,” writes Wyatt Prescott of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, “we see certain elected officials flaunting guns and Bibles to make a political point. Perplexed as I have been over this, a friend of mine summed it up in a way that I believe all of you would appreciate, ‘A real cowboy does not need to wear his spurs into a bar.’ He cites a ‘loud libertarian faction’ who ‘paints good conservatives into a corner, where if they do not agree with every aspect of the ideology, then of course, words offend you.’”

There’s a long list of bills this session in which ultra-right legislators bunched up herd-like around an ideological perspective, and a few “must pass” budget bills were in the mix despite their lopsided approval by the Joint Appropriations & Finance Committee. In effect, this small group is acting like spoiled, intolerant teenagers, protesting for its own sake with little or no respect for the common good. The vote on the Powerball lottery was just the latest example.