Idaho Conservatives Are Trying to Move the American GOP Further Right

AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger

At BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen reports from Northern Idaho, where many conservatives have moved to enjoy a life among like minds in this white, right wing sanctuary. Once a Democratic region of loggers and miners, conservatives have successfully converted the area into a Republican stronghold. But to the ultra-right wing Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, the GOP isn’t Republican enough. This Committee’s loose confederation rallies around an outspoken, slightly mysterious man named Brent Regan, who works better as a behind-the-scenes strategist and source of funding than a public face. One critic calls Regan’s contingent “the whole constellation of wackadoodles,” but they seem too effective and extreme to dismiss.

Tyler and others say the only membership requirement to be in Regan’s camp is to be a true, liberty-loving conservative, but the truth is more complicated. You don’t necessarily need to be a Christian, but you should believe in Christian values — and the ability for Christians to practice their beliefs without restriction, which includes supporting “school choice,” aka using federal funds to support religious schools. You believe that the Johnson Amendment — which forbids nonprofit organizations, including churches, from making political contributions — is unconstitutional. You should be against any increase in “unnecessary” spending, any expensive public works — like the pricey renovation of a lakeside park in Coeur d’Alene, which prompted an attempted recall of the mayor and city council, or the recently proposed transit center, dubbed “a Taj Mahal for government employees” by Alex Barron. You should also oppose the growth of government, especially Obamacare and the “perverse incentives and waste,” as Regan put it to me, that have resulted from it. And you must disaffiliate yourself with those who don’t believe these things.

Christa Hazel’s conservative credentials have been challenged, for example, because she posted pictures to Facebook that included “known” liberals. A far-right blog accused Duane Rasmussen, one of the founders of the North Idaho Pachyderm Club, of “bringing Socialism to Kootenai County” for making friends with Spokesman-Review columnist Dave Oliveria, who often published photos Rasmussen had taken of GOP events. When lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Steve Yates spoke at a recent Central Committee meeting, he was challenged for attending Johns Hopkins, a liberal school.

For many, it’s an exacting, and exhausting, sort of tribalism. As Deborah Rose, a political observer who’s been warring with Regan and his followers in the comments of newspaper articles for months, put it to me, “Here’s what bothers me so much: I agree with them on 95% of this stuff! But then the 5% that I don’t — that’s what makes them call me a liberal.”

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