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Idaho’s Exhausted Republican Establishment


Gov. Brad Little's face superimposed on the body of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.


In 1994, Republicans thought that throwing money at problems did NOT work. In 2022, exhausted Republican leaders throw money at problems in order to satisfy interests.


The way Gov. Brad Little is dealing with the challenge posed by the Reclaim Idaho initiative shows that he does not want to engage in a real difficult fight with liberal policies. It is easier to buy off the opposition than to fight.


As Idaho Freedom reports, Gov. Little is calling a special session of the legislature to take the wind out of Reclaim Idaho’s sails. The Reclaim initiative promises to raise taxes on everyone in the state to give schools more money. Gov. Little proposes to give the schools even more money than Reclaim, but to take it out of the state’s $2 billion surplus and to cut taxes with some of the rest of the surplus. Some tax cuts, some tax rebates, but more and more education spending too. Legislative leaders seem ready to go along with it.


It’s a clever ploy that illustrates how exhausted the Republican leadership in Idaho is.


Republicans have ruled Idaho since 1995—only Utah has a longer Republican streak (since 1985). More than half of Idaho’s citizens have known only Republican supermajorities in the state legislature and dominance at the state level. The worst Republican election in Idaho since they took control of the state government was 2014, when Governor Butch Otter won 54%-39% and when the State House was 58-12 Republican, and the State Senate was 28-7 Republican. Brad Little beat Paulette Jordan 60%-38% in 2018.


After more than a generation of continual rule, Idaho’s Republican establishment is exhausted—drained of mental resources and completely used up.


Louisiana’s colorful governor Edwin Edwards, who died last July, once quipped that “the only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed either with a dead girl or a live boy.” Idaho’s Republicans statewide could say the same thing.


One-party rule in places like the Soviet Union or many American cities make for a sclerotic, time-serving leadership. Leaders forget why they are in place. Leaders show up, pretend to do their jobs, and then just drift along enjoying the perks of office. Absent genuine competition leaders do not have to deliver so they do not prioritize delivering.


The absence of competition can also make leaders radical. They can implement their fondest, wildest hopes without fear of losing power. This is what happens in California, where the lack of accountability leads to extreme lockdowns or pet projects like high-speed rail or clean energy or rampant homelessness.


Complacent corruption and radicalism can happen simultaneously. In California, well-connected industries and interest groups leverage utopian projects for their own benefit.


The leaders of Idaho’s Republican Party in 2022 have adopted the Soviet model. Butch Otter, who retired after three terms as governor in 2018, once was a libertarian firebrand, but left as a defender of the establishment and arguing for expanding Medicaid. Gov. Brad Little, nearly 70-years-old, has been in state government since the early 1990s. These guys are the establishment.


Perhaps Gov. Little got into politics with high ideals. Certainly he was interested in something when he first entered politics. Now, however, not so much. He selectively applies the principles of the free market to reward friends and the establishment. He feeds the education establishment. He seeks to co-opt or prevent meaningful reforms to the establishment with clever maneuvers, aided by establishment figures in the legislature. His principles now submit to the overriding goal of consolidating establishment power.


Citizens of Idaho should think hard. Elsewhere, we think, lack of electoral competition leads to fat, lazy, exhausted leaders. California’s Democratic Party is corrupt. One-party Democratic rule in America’s cities like Baltimore (last Republican mayor 1967), Chicago (1923) or San Francisco (1964) leads to quite corrupt leaders who develop cozy relationships with lobbyists and industry. Single-minded devotion to one party when it is the Democrat Party is bad, we tell ourselves.


Doesn’t it work both ways? Has decades of Republican rule created a fat, complacent, unaccountable, corrupt, and incompetent Republican Party in Idaho? What are the chances that the 28th year of Republican rule in Idaho will be its greatest?


Throwing money at teacher’s unions and flush school districts is now the establishment Republican Party position. They did it through doubling education spending the last two years. And now this special session. Endorsements from teacher’s unions have followed.


These machinations may help Gov. Little maintain office, but they will lead neither to glory nor honor. He is Idaho’s exhausted version of Leonid Brezhnev.

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