House State Affairs Chairman Thomas Loertscher sponsored HB 154 on the House floor.
House State Affairs Chairman Thomas Loertscher sponsored HB 154 on the House floor.

Since the Idaho legislature gavelled into session leadership in both chambers promised to focus like lasers on jobs, transportation funding and education.  And while all these issues have dominated the docket they have not been what has stolen the show this session.  Cultural issues have.

If there ever was any doubt what divided America more than economic or racial issues it has been settled.  Okay, it’s been settled in Idaho; culture.  Such a divide has been showcased on two occasions and perhaps a few more to follow before the session ends.

LBGT rights have long been a galvanizing issue for Idaho Democrats and the majority party’s ignorance of their plight played a big part in Boise turning blue.  But it took over nine years for Idaho Republicans to even allow a hearing on a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and preference.

The bill, H2, was presented before a joint session of the House and Senate State Affairs Committees.  After three days of testimony not a single Republican (out of 13) voted for the bill while all four Democrats voted for the bill.

Merely a month later HB 154 was introduced.  The bill, relating to chemical abortions would require women to see a doctor to get a prescription to provide an abortion inducing drug.  Introduced in the House State Affairs Committee the bill was passed along party lines.

When HB 154 hit the floor a mere day ago it was expected to pass.  But how it did so has to be considered unexpected.  In a 55-14 vote not a single Democrat voted for the bill (expected) but not a single Republican voted against the bill.  This included vulnerable Republicans in legislative districts encompassing Lewiston in the North and Sun Valley.

Much as cultural issues have come to dominate federal politics so do they also appear to be taking over Idaho’s politics.  Only here, one party has commanding domination of the state.  As I hinted above, this is not a new phenomenon in Idaho.  All of Boise’s legislative districts went for Obama in 08 and 012 while every other region of the state went for Romney and McCain.

At the legislative level it has taken more time for cultural politics to start heavily influence voting.  Consider the ultra-sound bill of 2012.  That session, the bill passed the Senate 23-12 and five Republicans voted against it.  House leadership did not even take up the bill suggesting their Caucus was split on the issue.

Not so with this bill.  Instead, this bill garnered strong support for and against along straight party lines.  Perhaps after 2012 and 2014 where few members lost reelection legislators feel empowered to vote more on culturally ideological lines.  But the subtext of the votes on HB2 and HB 154 is clear.  Idaho’s politics is as much cultural as partisan.


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