Can The GOP War On Women Make Idaho Competitive Again?
Just before dawn today, the NY Times published a piece about the importance of the abortion issue in Democratic campaigns. “All across America,” wrote Shane Goldmacher and Katie Glueck, “Democrats are using abortion as a powerful cudgel in their 2022 television campaigns, paying for an onslaught of ads in House, Senate and governor’s races that show how swiftly abortion politics have shifted since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June. With national protections for abortion rights suddenly gone and bans going into effect in many states, senior White House officials and top Democratic strategists believe the issue has radically reshaped the 2022 landscape in their favor. They say it has not only reawakened the party’s progressive base, but also provided a wedge issue that could wrest away independent voters and even some Republican women who believe abortion opponents have overreached. In the fallout of the ruling, Democrats see the potential to upend the typical dynamic of midterm elections in which voters punish the party in power. In this case, although Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, it is one of their top policy priorities— access to abortion— that has been most visibly stripped away... In the roughly 50 days since the Supreme Court’s ruling, Democrats have flooded the airwaves in many of the nation’s most closely watched contests, spending nearly eight times as much as Republicans have on ads talking about abortion— $31.9 million compared with $4.2 million” It matters in swing states and districts and even in reddish states and districts. But it doesn’t matter in places like Idaho. The Times used this graphic showing campaign ads in Arizona, Pennsylvania and even Alaska. No sense in doing anything like this in Idaho, other than to build for the future, likely a very distant future.
Idaho was redder in the 2020 election than any Confederate state. Only Wyoming, West Virginia, Oklahoma and North Dakota gave Trump bigger percentages. It’s a hellishly red state, in many places, especially the panhandle, not just Republican, but fascist-oriented. Trump beat Biden 554,119 (63.9%) to 287,021 (33.1%) and won all but 3 of the state’s 44 counties. Biden won Blaine County (Sun Valley), Latah County (University of Idaho) and Teton County. There were only 3 swing counties:
Ada (Boise) is, by far, the most populous county in the state. Trump won it 130,699 (50.3%) to 120,539 (46.4%), Biden coming closer to winning it than any Democratic presidential nominee since FDR in 1940. (FDR won Ada County in 1936). Before Idaho became a KKK bastion, it was a competitive state. FDR won Idaho every time he ran, as did Truman and LBJ.
The state legislature took away women’s Choice. Will it change anything electorally? Andrew Jeong’s reporting for the Washington Post yesterday, holds out scant hope. The state Supreme Court ruled that they’re fine with the legislature’s extreme anti-Choice laws, which kick in a week from this coming Thursday. After that, Idaho women will have to travel to Washington, Oregon or California for abortions. The Supreme Court even “lifted a stay on a separate law that allows potential relatives of a fetus to sue a provider who carries out an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. That law becomes effective immediately. The decision was made in response to lawsuits from a Planned Parenthood chapter and a local doctor challenging laws such as Idaho’s near-total abortion trigger ban, which was designed to become enforceable shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The petitioners had asked the judiciary to suspend enforcement of the abortion restrictions until it reached a final decision. But Idaho’s highest court denied the requests in a split decision, saying that the petitioners had failed to show that they were likely to prevail in overturning the state’s antiabortion laws. Idaho’s abortion restrictions have exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the pregnant person is at risk. Abortion rights supporters had previously argued in court that the medical exceptions were written so vaguely that they were impossible to follow.”
The Idaho Republican Party, which calls abortion “murder from the moment of fertilization” on its platform, didn’t immediately issue a statement in response to the ruling. Its Twitter account retweeted and liked a local reporter’s update on the court’s decision.
The Biden administration is separately suing to block Idaho’s near-total abortion ban from taking effect on Aug. 25, saying it violates a federal requirement to provide medical care when a pregnant person’s health is at risk. That lawsuit is scheduled to be heard on Aug. 22. The U.S. Justice Department argues that the Idaho law conflicts with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that says patients seeking emergency medical care at a hospital accepting Medicare funds are entitled to any lifesaving treatment.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) and Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden (R) disputed the Justice Department’s characterization of state laws, saying that federal statutes allowed the ban and describing the Biden administration’s suit as federal overreach.
Many physicians have argued that the latest wave of antiabortion laws attempts to create a binary on what is a continuous spectrum of increasing risk. Pregnancy can be a huge stress on a patient’s body, potentially turning existing health problems into life-threatening ones.
The suit was the first filed by the Biden administration against abortion restrictions nationwide after Roe was overturned. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland argued that by banning abortions, even to women in medical emergencies, Idaho law violates federal law. Federal law prevails when it conflicts with state laws, the Constitution says.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the Department of Justice’s new reproductive rights task force, said the Idaho law unfairly puts the legal burden on medical professionals to prove they hadn’t violated it. “They must either withhold stabilizing treatment … or risk felony prosecution and license revocation,” Gupta said.
How will we even know if there’s an electoral impact? The Republicans are expected top sweep all 7 constitutional offices— Brad Little for governor, Scott Bedke for lt. gov, Phil McGrane for secretary of state, Brandon Woolf for controller, Julie Ellsworth for treasurer, Raul Labrador for attorney General and Debbie Critchfield for superintendent of public education. Senator Mike Crapo and congressmen Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher don’t have any serious competition. The state Senate has 28 Republicans and 7 Democrats and the state House has 58 Republicans and 12 Democrats. In theory state Senate district 15 could flip by electing Rick Just (in response to fascist Codi Galloway having defeated mainstream GOP incumbent Fred Martin), as could district 22, where Pat Soulliere could beat Lori Den Hartog. That would put the Senate at 26-9.
And in the state House the only vaguely vulnerable Republicans might be Jeff Nafsinger, James Petzke, John Vander Woude and Jason Monks. If that miracle were to happen, there would be 54 Republicans and 16 Democrats in the House. (There are 38 seats in which no Democrat is contesting the Republican candidate.)
On Thursday the Idaho Capital Sun reported on the tenor of Idaho politics: GOP = hate, hate, hate. “Idaho,” wrote Heath Druzin, “was once infamous for being the base of that violent hate group, whose compound at Hayden Lake in the 1980s and ’90s blighted the region’s reputation. The community pushed back on the Aryan Nations and a lawsuit eventually bankrupted the group.”
Fast forward two decades to June 11, when 31 members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front were arrested in Coeur d’Alene. Police say they were jammed into a U-Haul moving truck en route to trying to start a riot at a Gay Pride event. All 31 face misdemeanor charges and are awaiting trial.
The arrests shocked many around the country, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that a hate group thought it would get a friendly reception in North Idaho. Over the past few years, figures from around the country and world spewing anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic rhetoric have been setting up shop in the area.
At the moment these figures have nowhere near the numbers or organizational power the Aryan Nations did. But some of them do have one thing that group never had: political support from members of the local GOP.
“I think that’s definitely a concern, especially when (hate figures) are so open about making inroads within the GOP,” said Stephen Piggott of the extremism watchdog Western States Center. “And not only are they being public about it, but they seem to have been making some headway as well.”
That came into sharp focus on July 14, in the midst of the Idaho GOP Convention in Twin Falls, when someone handed out misleading flyers at a local homeless shelter that read: Pizza for the Needy. It posted details of an event hosted by Tom Luna who was running for a second term of the chairman for the Idaho Republican Party. It continued with: “for the benefit of the needy in Magic Valley.”
But the gathering was actually a meet and greet for GOP delegates. When homeless families showed up, Luna treated them to pizza when he figured out what had happened.
Later, the leader of the homeless shelter said it was David Reilly who handed out the fliers. Alarmingly to many inside and outside the GOP, he was also a voting delegate at the GOP convention.
Reilly didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.
Reilly has a history of anti-Semitic and other bigoted comments. He resigned from his father’s radio station after taking part in the Charlottesville Unite The Right protest in 2017. That event, which happened five years ago Thursday, brought together white supremacists from around the country and ended in the murder of a counter-protester.
Reilly also has tweeted a litany of anti-Semitic statements, like, “White privilege is a thing, because Jews pretend to be white when it’s expedient for them. Everyone else of European heritage is left footing the bill, and taking the blame for their bad behavior.” He’s also bemoaned women having the right to vote.
At the Idaho GOP Convention, Reilly supported Luna’s opponent: far-right state representative Dorothy Moon in her bid to become party chairwoman. Moon, who has promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, easily beat Luna to become leader of the Idaho GOP.
Some Idaho Republicans are wondering what people like Reilly were doing at the GOP convention in the first place.
Ashley Aven, who helped oversee the vote for leaders at the convention and was part of Luna’s unsuccessful campaign to remain GOP chairman, said she’s worried about the party’s direction.
“I was concerned about many of the people (at the convention),” she said. “I don’t understand why people like David Reilly would be welcomed in.”
The convention wasn’t the first time party officials had been friendly to Reilly.
Reilly moved to North Idaho after the fallout from Charlottesville and quickly ran for school board in the town of Post Falls. His well-documented bigotry did not stop local Republicans from donating to his campaign, including the most important GOP figure in the area, Kootenai County GOP Central Committee Chairman Brent Regan.
Regan, who apologized for a racist anecdote about Barack Obama during a 2013 run for Coeur d’Alene school board, declined an interview request. In an email he wrote, “Apparently one is now to be judged by the alleged sins of the people they meet, talk to, are photographed with, or assist in any way and for any reason.”
At the same time, Regan declined to disavow Reilly, writing, “the [Kootenai County GOP Central] committee has not opined on the status of Mr. Reilly and as chairman I represent the committee.”
Another supporter of Reilly’s school board campaign was Idaho GOP Region 1 chairman Bjorn Handeen, who derogatorily referred to the Pride event targeted by Patriot Front as “tranny day” in a Telegram post…Reilly lost his school board race but received nearly 47% of the vote.
…European hate figures have also seen the panhandle as a friendly place to land.
Henrik Palmgren from Sweden and his American wife Lana Lokteff recently set up shop in North Idaho to run their popular white supremacist media organization, Red Ice. The couple has built up a large following, peddling anti-Semitic and homophobic tropes and racist screeds like comparing interracial marriage to mass murder. In 2019, they were booted from YouTube for offensive content.
Another recent transplant is Vincent James Foxx, who founded the white nationalist organization, Red Elephants. He didn’t respond to a request for an interview through his website Daily Veracity but claims to have deep ties to Idaho’s militia-supporting Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.
McGeachin didn’t respond to a request for an interview, but she posed for a photo [up top] with Foxx and Reilly during her failed bid for governor this past spring. McGeachin also appeared by video at the white nationalist America First Political Action Conference, organized by Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.
Aven, the GOP delegate critical of Reilly’s participation in the convention, said the far-right politicians embracing some of these hate figures could cost the party support in the long term.
“As a party, these more right-wing types don’t reflect the actual values of the party and they don’t reflect the actual values of the greater Republican community, and they have so isolated those who are fiscally conservative and maybe not so much socially conservative … they’re going to completely cut off that support,” she said. “I think it will push many people away and I think (far-right activists) would say ‘That’s good, they’re RINOs (Republicans In Name Only)’ and that’s really not true.”