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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Idaho Will Go Its Own Way in 2020 Race

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin displays a bible and a handgun as she recites a line from the state Constitution in an Idaho Freedom Foundation video.


My journey to Moscow, Idaho tickled me.

When I flew from California’s Long Beach Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I found myself in a tiny terminal, cramped with other passengers. Before too long, airline workers ushered fewer than 20 of us outdoors on a short walk to a plane small enough for us to step up into without the aid of a stairway.

It was the first time I had flown on a small plane in the United States. It astonished me. What was this place called Moscow whose name origin is clouded in dispute?

I had accepted a friend’s invitation to visit her at the University of Idaho, where she was studying law. Kathy met me at the regional airport and proceeded to show me around proudly.

In this mostly rural place, there was breathing space. The mountains roused me. And quilts at a county fair impressed me. So, when Kathy asked me how I liked the Gem State, I listed my reasons for liking it, but I added that I was surprised that I had not seen another person of color since my arrival. After all, Moscow was home to a university of thousands. I thought that the extreme lack of diversity was odd.

My comment on race upset her. To this day, many years later, I do not understand her reaction. I was merely making an observation, in my mind, a glaring one. I do not remember Kathy, a white Russian American, and I discussing race before because it had not been salient.

We had met in Greece when we were both traveling. I had visited her and her family in Royal Oak, a white middle-class suburb of Detroit, from my parent’s home in Hempstead, Long Island, a black and Latino suburb of New York. Then, Kathy had visited me in Washington. D.C., which was predominantly black outside of the northwest quadrant, site of government offices and the mostly white population, who came from around the country either to work for or against the government.

Moscow did not participate in the accepted and unspoken American practice of housing racial segregation because most everyone was white. Was Kathy angry because I mentioned the elephant in the room? Did she think that I was casting aspersions on the people of Idaho? I did not understand.

Last week, Idaho’s Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin and some other Republican state legislators appeared in a video in which they questioned the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic and declared their refusal to obey state or local emergency orders relating to the protection of citizens from the virus.

Again, I do not understand it.

There have been seven state mandates, beginning with the March 25 mandate for self-isolation. The most recent order on October 27 allows the operation of schools and businesses. However, there are restrictions on the maximum number of patrons inside (50) and outside (25% of maximum permitted occupancy) establishments. Also, all patrons must be seated and maintain 6 feet of distance. Masks are required of visitors to long-term facilities.

The wearing of masks has been controversial, and its mandate left to counties. Last week, several eastern Idaho hospitals issued a plea to people to take the COVID-19 crisis seriously as medical facilities are seeing the highest number of cases since the pandemic began early this year, according to East Idaho News (October 20). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advocated mask-use “as one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus.”

Frank L. VanderSloot is CEO of Melaleuca, an international company with a base n the United States at Idaho Falls. The firm sells nutritional supplements, cleaning products and personal care products. VanderSloot said that he always wears a mask and was surprised when he addressed a political fundraiser last month, said the East Idaho News.

“There were 140 people there and not a single person was wearing a mask. The person I was with and I walked in with our masks and, literally, within 15 minutes, half that group had their masks on,” said VanderSloot, 72, whose company employs 2,000 locally. “As soon as we showed up and demonstrated it was OK, they all put on their masks.”

About 300 miles north of Idaho’s capital of Boise in Hayden, Idaho, the Panhandle Health District board heard arguments on October 23 about the mask mandate in the northern Kootenai County, according to the Los Angeles Times (October 31). Jeffrey Lee, the district’s epidemiologist, had dire news about COVID-19:

“As we increase the number of cases, it is not hard to imagine that we will quickly outstrip our hospitals’ capability of meeting that increase in cases.”

Kootenai Health, a major regional hospital, is 99 percent full, Lee told the health district board. Board member Glen Baily said that the pandemic’s cases in the sparsely populated regions are seeing fewer deaths.

“No, sir. That’s incorrect,” said Lee, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Hayden resident Sandy White insisted that “we’ve had many more deaths from the flu every year than we’ve had from COVID so far, and that hasn’t led to us needing to wear a mask.”

“No, that’s incorrect, ma’am” countered Lee. “The five northern counties, over four flu seasons, we had 56 deaths. We’ve had 73 deaths in the, basically, seven months that we’ve had SARS.CoV-2 in the northern counties.”

White shot back: “Were they already terminally ill when they got COVID and they died?”

Ultimately, the board voted 4 to 3 to repeal the county’s mask mandate at the meeting just 11 days before the national presidential election, said the Los Angeles Times.

Board member Walt Kirby, 90, said he wears a mask in public and he keeps a careful social distance. However, he voted in favor of the repeal.

“Nobody’s wearing the damned masks anyway,” said Kirby. “All they are is just thumbing their noses at us anyway. It’s about over. People are dying. They’re going to keep dying. They’re going to keep catching this stuff. And they’re going to keep giving it to each other.

“I’m just sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully, I’ll live through it,” said the man, who was born 10 years after the 1918 flu pandemic in four successive waves killed as few as 17 million to as many as 100 million worldwide, according to varying statistics.

Nearly 2 million have died worldwide of COVID-19 as of November 1.

U.S. Election Day is Tuesday. However, Idaho is not entertaining any visits from former vice president Joe Biden or President Donald J. Trump. The Republicans will win Idaho, which has only four electoral votes and 1.8 million people compared with California’s 55 votes and 39.5 million people. The winner of the most statewide votes will win all four electoral votes. Biden or Trump must get an absolute majority of 270 or more to win the election.

The last time Idaho voted blue was in 1964 for southern Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson (50.92 percent) running against Barry Goldwater (49.08) percent.

“If Idaho is a bellwether of anything, it would be Republican fervor and leave-me-alone independence,” said the Los Angeles Times. “Both of those have been on prominent display as politics and pandemic collide in the waning days of campaign 2020.”

Idaho for Freedom Foundation published online a “Declaration to Idaho Residents and Public Officials” on October 1. It read:

“We, the people of the state of Idaho, reaffirm our solemn commitment to the foundational principles that have made America the greatest country in the world. As noted in our state constitution and restated here, we remain grateful to Almighty God for our freedom. We recognize that all of us are “by nature free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, pursuing happiness and securing safety.

“The fact that a pandemic may or may not be occurring changes nothing about the meaning or intent of the state constitution in the preservation of our inalienable rights. Despite this, in direct contravention of Idaho’s founding principles, state and local public officials have, for months, denied the people of our state basic and fundamental rights by issuing a long procession of emergency orders and edicts that have denied people freedom of movement, assembly, religion, possession and enjoyment of property, and the pursuit of happiness. This has been allowed to go on for too long.

“By this letter, we demand an end to the emergency orders issued by state and local government officials and the restoration of our constitutionally-protected rights. We further resolve that any order issued in the future will be ignored, unless those orders recognize, honor, and uphold, without reservation or equivocation, our God-given rights.”

A total of 973 people signed this letter electronically as of November 1.

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