The cure for Idaho’s extremist politics is reform of our election process

As another session of the Idaho Legislature cranks up, Idahoans shudder at the prospect of more needless political discord and legislative shenanigans. Instead of working on legislation to deal with real problems, too many extremist legislators will waste our time trying to score political points on culture war issues like critical race theory, which most of them can’t even define. It gets worse each year.

Already this year we have seen the introduction of these nonsense bills:
Senate Bill 1002 would establish an aggressor-friendly self-defense law.
Senate Bill 1006 would force local governments to enforce federal immigration laws.
Senate Bill 1007 would allow gun-toting private militias to parade around in public.
Senate Bill 1008 would encourage more concealed weapons on college campuses.
Senate Bill 1009 would prohibit the implementation of measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

And the conflict merchants are just getting started. Idahoans can anticipate introduction and possible passage of bills: to force taxpayers to pay for private and parochial schooling; to ban some books from school and other libraries; to interfere with the medical treatment of transgender children; to further restrict the ability of voters and candidates to participate in electoral activities of the party of their choice; and a wide array of other culture war legislation designed to inflame and further divide Idahoans.

As in past legislative sessions, a great deal of effort will have to be expended by Idahoans of good faith and common sense to defeat these nonsense bills. But those bills will get most of the attention in the legislative session, diverting attention from real problems that need real solutions. There will be little time to consider property tax relief, child care solutions, ways to meet the State’s constitutional responsibility to adequately fund the public school system, ways to address the shortage of water supplies to maintain our agricultural industry.

If we could only conceive of one measure that would address all of these problems in one fell swoop, we could avoid storm and stress in future legislative sessions. Could it be possible that one law would produce a Legislature dedicated to responsible, pragmatic action to move the State forward, so we don’t get bogged down every year trying to swat down crazy legislation? Just so happens there is a magic bullet–a law that would open up the primary election process of all political parties to participation by all eligible voters, regardless of party affiliation.

The primary cause of dysfunction in the Idaho Legislature is the closed Republican primary election. Because extremists have taken control of that party’s structure, the most extreme candidates have a tremendous advantage in the primary election, which is the key to general election victory in most areas of this one-party state. Think of the responsible GOP legislators who were replaced by extremists in the May primary last year–Jim Woodward, Greg Chaney, Scott Syme, Jeff Agenbroad, Carl Crabtree, Jim Addis and Fred Martin. The most extreme candidates generally prevailed in other contested races. Many incumbent GOP legislators were not even contested.

The obvious way to address all of the trumped-up culture war issues that get in the way of responsible, pragmatic governing is to remove the culture warriors from the legislative body. That can be done by opening up the Republican primary and allowing all Idahoans to vote in any party primary of their choosing. That system existed in Idaho for decades before the GOP closed its primary in 2012 and it worked well.

There is an even better way to fix the system and ensure more-responsible, less-divisive government–the ranked choice system that was successfully put to the test in Alaska last year and which was adopted by Nevada voters last November. Reports out of Alaska indicate that the system was voter friendly, brought out significantly more candidates and placed better, more responsible candidates in positions of power. There is much more to say about the system, but that must be done in a later column.

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5 thoughts on “The cure for Idaho’s extremist politics is reform of our election process”

  1. Both of these types of reforms could bring some sanity back to the political arena and hopefully result in a functioning legislature that is more reflective of Idaho’s better self.

    Would be interested if you know of organizations within Idaho that are trying to bring about these changes.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I intend on working with others to try to get an initiative going next year to adopt a ranked choice system like Alaska and Nevada. More on this later. Jim

      1. I am looking forward to hearing about what you are planning to do. I hope there is opportunity to be able to help in some way with the push for these reforms.

  2. I’m perplexed by the statement that “Senate Bill 1002 would establish an aggressor-friendly self-defense law.”

    Under Idaho law, “[a] person is not entitled to claim self-defense or justify a homicide when he or she was the aggressor or the one who provoked the altercation in which another person is killed, unless such person in good faith first withdraws from further aggressive action”. State v. turner, 38 P.3d 1285

    Senate Bill 1002 doesn’t change that in any way. How does the bill change self-defense law to make it aggressor friendly?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Don. I wholly agree with the language you quoted from the State v. Turner case. The Idaho Court of Appeals stated what was then the long-standing rule in Idaho. That is, if you were the initial aggressor, you could not claim self defense unless you made a genuine effort to cease your aggressive action. On the other hand, self defense was not available to one who actually became the aggressor, if the use of force was unreasonable. The Court of Appeals wrote the Turner opinion in 2001. You will be distressed to learn that the Idaho Legislature made a major change to Idaho’s self defense and justifiable homicide laws in 2018 that essentially allow the self defender to become the aggressor. The Legislature passed what it called the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground law. You may recall that Florida had a Stand Your Ground law when George Zimmerman was excused for killing Trayvon Martin several years ago. Section 19-202A was amended in 2018 to say that a person “need not retreat” and “may stand his ground” when claiming self defense. A more important protection for those claiming self defense is that the burden of proving self defense was shifted from the defense to the prosecution. The prosecutor now to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of force by a self defender was not justifiable. The Castle Doctrine is set out in Idaho Code section 18-4009, which deal with justifiable homicide. It substantially expands the circumstances where a person can make a self-defense claim. It is no wonder that we see more criminals advancing spurious self-defense claims.

      This brings us to Senate Bill 1004, which I mentioned as being aggressor friendly. It immunizes from prosecution a person who uses force after having threatened to use force under the Castle Doctrine or Stand Your Ground law. The bill would add a new section 19-202B to the Idaho Code. It is a convoluted piece of legislation that would let a person found not guilty of a criminal offense because of self defense recover costs and legal fees from the county where the prosecution was brought. It has great potential for confusion and misuse.

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