Last week’s total eclipse was a stunning event for those in the path of totality (including my front yard) and still a spectacular one for those who were able to observe the partial version.
Idaho was in the glare of the international spotlight. I saw multiple television channels and news reports that highlighted the unique experience in Weiser, Idaho Falls, Rexburg and Swan Valley.
On the morning of the eclipse, I went to a local park in Idaho Falls and had great conversation with folks from out of state that had made the trip. The area and the people impressed them. Based on traffic counts that day and after, we had huge numbers of visitors to Eastern Idaho and presumably the rest of the Idaho.
All of this was great for our image as a state.
Then, almost simultaneously, a couple of clunky Idaho state representatives compromised some of that good will.
First, a bit earlier, was North Idaho’s ever tone-deaf and Confederate flag-waving Rep. Heather Scott championing white nationalism in a Facebook post blasting the media and stating “the mention of white nationalist, which is no more than a Caucasian who (sic) for the Constitution and making America great again”.
Second, not to be outdone was Rep. Bryan Zollinger from my area who shared a Facebook post asserting that the events in Charlottesville were potentially a “set-up”. Zollinger deemed that theory “plausible”.
This brought back memories of when I worked in Washington, D.C. I often told people I was originally from Idaho. Many confused us with Iowa. I would tell them Idaho was the potato state not the corn state.
But, what was always interesting was the few points people knew about Idaho. It was usually one of four things: 1) Potatoes, 2) Beautiful scenery, 3) Sun Valley, and 4) White supremacists.
That last item was the result of Richard Butler and his antics in North Idaho. We still haven’t shaken that.
Both Scott and Zollinger reinforced that narrative. They owe our state’s reputation more in the future.
Let me make four suggestions for Idaho public officials to protect Idaho’s reputation going forward:
- If you are tempted to say, post or share something involving race -- don’t do it.
- If the topic involves religion, remember that you represent our diverse state. Be respectful of that fact.
- If you get the strong urge to do something foolish, wait 24 hours, and ask at least 5 people out of your circle first. Then follow their advice.
- Idaho’s reputation is more important than you making headlines.