A banal, yet ominous affair
The town hall gathering of perhaps 80 people at St John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Post Falls was mild mannered and banal on the surface despite the grave implications for Idaho wilderness, public schools, and state budget.
A policeman was stationed at the door but there was no need, for not a raised voice was heard (other than, some grumblings about liquor licenses). The republican congresspeople sat behind the table while questions were submitted in writing so that no citizen was allowed to ask questions or follow up on any questions. A statement was made at the beginning to the effect that this was private property and anyone who insisted on speaking up without permission would be removed. The organizers of the town hall were quite pleased that the proceedings were without heated exchange or confrontation of any kind, not to mention dialogue.
Luke Malek, Mary Souza, Don Cheatham, Ron Mendive, Paul Amador and Steve Vick offered their views to a roomful of older white republicans. Cheatham made comments vilifying Muslims, falling into false dualisms and showing little ability for complex moral thought. A question about how they were going to stop sharia law in Idaho went unanswered. The legislators were apparently unwilling to point out that anyone asking such a question is not just proposing alternate facts, but is rather inhabiting an entirely alternate reality from the rest of us- in which Muslim fundamentalists are on the verge of overtaking the Idaho court system and establishing their own code of law! Otherwise, three major issues were discussed in somewhat vague terms:
1) Idaho republicans intend to undo federal control over state land so that they can allow private timber, mining, and oil and gas companies to move in and extract these resources. This is a typical Koch brother, ALEC move that is being and has been pursued in other western states. They try to justify opening up state land to corporate plunder by claiming that this will allow the forests to be “managed better” for the well-being of wildlife and to minimize fires. They suggest too, that cutting “unnecessary” regulations will provide economic stimulation and revenue for Idaho by allowing business to be free. Not mentioned is the fact that most Idahoans deeply appreciate the federal protection of our state lands and prize the preservation of our public lands for fishing, hunting and recreating. If federal protection is taken away- and the many state, national, and foreign corporate interests greedily eyeing the spoils are allowed to take over- than Idahoans will lose hunting, fishing and recreating opportunities as well as protection of our water. There was not one single mention of climate change, its cause being animal agriculture, fossil fuels and deforestation, or the severe consequences that it imposes. No mention either of problems resulting from the recent massive cuts to the EPA resulting in a huge decrease in the public ability to protect against corporate abuse, for example, water pollution.
2) Idaho republicans, in coordination with Betsy Devos, want to undermine public education by giving parents public funds for education to go to religious schools. The Blaine amendment- which is built into the constitution of many western states, and which prohibits public money from going to private religious schools- is getting in their way and they would like to get rid of it so that they can move ahead with their plan. Mendive spoke approvingly of an attempt to undermine the teachers union which stands in their way as well. No mention that these steps would greatly defund and destabilize public education.
3) Proposed tax cuts which have passed the house- whose primary benefit is to the richest and would give the average person no more than a dinner out- would amount to a little over $51 million per year from now on. This year alone, that happens to be about the same amount as the state budget surplus that is being entirely used to rebuild Idaho roads. There is significant controversy in the Legislature over whether the tax cuts should go through when money is needed for so many other things. The tax cut bill could be stopped if citizens make their voices heard over the next few weeks.
Though the air at the republican town hall was stale and the mood was grim in what it could portend for our future as Idahoans, it was merely a prelude to the so-called “Lincoln dinner” that followed that night. However, there is a strong possibility of successful resistance to this extremist agenda of the corporate right of resource extraction and enrichment over public rights for healthy land, water, and biospheric preservation. We can prevail in the face of attacks on public school funding and we can stop the tax cuts favoring the rich that would defund our state budget.
Now is the time to fight back- to call and write our senators and stop these extremists from enacting their agenda in our state.