State Report ID 1: Idaho Report
by Phyllis Schatz
With an area of 83,557 square miles, Idaho is in many ways three states. Northern Idaho, extending to the Canadian border, is heavily forested and heavily dependent on the lumber industry. The residents are fiercely independent and view even Southwestern Idaho residents with suspicion. For big city amenities, residents look to Spokane, Washington. Southwestern Idaho contains the state capitol, agriculture and electronics. Southeastern Idaho is largely agricultural, with a growing electronics industry.
It may well be, as some have suggested, that Idaho would be a good compromise between wide open spaces and city life. As an 18-yr. resident of Idaho, I hesitate to recommend for or against it as the free state. I did not know the term libertarian until 1996, but I would say it adequately describes the majority of people in Idaho (although most of them either do not know the term or equate it with anarchy and lawlessness). Idahoans are friendly, and enjoy a casual life style. The general mood of the people in Idaho - as I see it - is divided between "Just leave me alone and let me run my life and raise my children as I see fit"(the majority) and "We have to pass laws to get Idaho back to good Christian morals" (a very noisy minority).
In my part of the state (Boise), it seems that cops are everywhere, but I have found them to be friendly and helpful (although my friends in the 18-25 age bracket have a different impression). When I was in an accident with no personal injury but total destruction of my car, the investigating officer drove me home. It is their policy that you are not stopped for speeding unless going at least 10 miles over the speed limit (yes, even where the limit is 20mph). The police also seem reluctant to enforce the seat belt law. Official policy is to not stop for seat belt violation unless there is another traffic violation. In my personal experience, they don't even ticket then. Recently, the officer investigating a minor accident for which he gave me a ticket, when asking me if I was wearing my seat belt, was nodding his head, to indicate that I should say yes.
I know that each of us is primarily interested in the prognosis for success of the FSP. Unfortunately, statistical analysis cannot answer this complex question for us. One very important element in the project is - what will it take to inspire 20,000 freedom-loving people not only to move to one state, but also to persevere when the going gets tough. This can often depend on things like climate and entertainment opportunities.
For those of you who are interested in the weather, I would describe the climate as moderate, although it varies from one part of the state to another and from year to year. Here in the Treasure Valley (the largest population center - Boise, Nampa, Caldwell, Meridian, Eagle, Star & Kuna) we enjoy summertime temperatures in the 80s and 90s during the day, cooling off to the 40s - 60s at night. Winter temperatures are normally above freezing in the daytime, although subzero is not unknown. If you like snow, you will have to go to the higher elevations. When we do get snow in the valley (which doesn't happen every year), it usually disappears by noon. If you are looking for more rugged weather, there is plenty of that at the higher elevations of the north, central and southeast parts of the state.
Idaho is not subject to hurricanes or tornadoes. Earthquakes are rare and mild. Our major natural disasters are thunderstorms and forest fires (sometimes related).
For summer recreation in the Boise area, there is the Greenbelt - a path along the Boise River, maintained by the park department heavily used by walkers, bicyclists and roller skaters. In July it is traditional to float the Boise River on inner tubes (a good way to have fun without spending money). For the more daring, there are white-water commercial raft trips on the Snake River. In the winter, you can ski at nearby Bogus Basin, or drive a little further to the famous Sun Valley ski resort. Did I mention we also have some of the finest hunting and fishing in the country?
There are many gun enthusiasts in the state, and their rights are guaranteed by the State Constitution: "No law shall impose licensure, registration or special taxation on the ownership or possession of firearms or ammunition. Nor shall any law permit the confiscation of firearms, except those actually used in the commission of a felony." [ID state constitution, Article I, sec. 11]
For the less athletically inclined, summer brings "Alive after Five" every Wednesday evening, and "First Thursday", both featuring (free) live musical entertainment and a variety of food, in downtown Boise. First Thursday is, of course, the first Thursday evening of each month during agreeable weather, and features a stroll through the art galleries. The last week of June, we have the "Boise River Festival" sponsored by local merchants and free to the public - with several features especially for children. There is also Jazz at the winery and Shakespeare under the Stars, as the usual array of performances found in any metropolitan area of any size.
I hesitate to describe the political climate because it is currently in a state of turmoil. The state legislature, composed of a Senate and House of Representatives is dominated by Republicans. This is somewhat deceptive, however, since politicians have learned that if they want to win an election, they need to call themselves Republican regardless of their political philosophy. A candidate does not need the endorsement of the party in order to file under that banner. Voters do not state a party affiliation upon registering. Primary elections are open to all registered voters, who then vote in whichever single primary they choose for that election. Under present circumstances, most voters vote the Republican Primary, regardless of party affiliation. In May 2002, for the first time in Idaho history, there were three parties in the primary: Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian. Many Libertarians voted Republican, since most Libertarian candidates ran unopposed in the primary.
Anything can happen in this fall's elections, including Libertarian victories. The Libertarian Party of Idaho has shown a 29% increase in membership since May of this year (from 117 to 151). The bad news is - there is serious dissension within the party at this point. The good news is - there is also serious dissension within the state Republican Party. Voters are fuming at the action of the Republican majority in repealing a term limits law that was passed by initiative and was approved by the voters on three occasions. A minority of the Republicans are with the voters on the issue of arrogance of the legislators.
A Party can gain ballot status by obtaining signatures equal to 2% of the votes cast for presidential electors at the last general election. Thereafter status can be maintained by one of two methods: 1) having three or more candidates for state or national office listed on the ballot at the last general election; 2) polling for one of it's candidates at least 3% of the aggregate vote for governor or presidential electors. The Libertarian Party has been on the ballot since 1976.
One very real disadvantage of Idaho as the free state is that the state constitution speaks against secession: "SECTION 3. STATE INSEPARABLE PART OF UNION. The state of Idaho is an inseparable part of the American Union, and the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land." This is not a fatal flaw, since Constitutions can be amended.
In summary: I believe the prognosis for Idaho as the free state cannot be clearly seen at this time. The present political climate is turbulent and can see dramatic changes for better or for worse in the elections of 2002. I will issue updates on the health of the IDLP as they become available.
August 5, 2002
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Free State Project, its Officers, or Directors.