Stephen Hartgen 01

As far back as we know in recorded human history, conflicts among political persuasions have always existed. We see it in scripture, where nations will war with nations; in ancient Roman times between Caesar and the Senate; in our own colonial times, which pitted merchants and trade “mechanics” against farmers and laborers.

And we see it today in both Democratic and Republican ranks where factions routinely pillory each other with insults and claims of not being “pure enough.” Such back-and-forth is loved by the press, whose only constant is “let you and him fight.” These contests are particularly interesting when the fisticuffs are between members of Congress such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her tiny band of House leftist insurgents.

We also see such conflicts in the intra-party battles in Idaho’s own government, where folks on the Republican right routinely claim a purer and more ideological strain of governance. They bring in issues like America’s role in the United Nations, nullification of federal laws and court rulings and even use words like “secession,” separating the state from the rest of the USA. These musings rarely have any traction, as they don’t deal with local, solvable issues; yet they continue to stir up people, nonetheless.

For all the visible squabbles, there are pluses in the flying feathers. One is the “airing” of conflicting perspectives on major topics like initiative reform and education support.

Initiatives have been part of the Idaho political environment for more than a century, but the process hasn’t seen much use until recent times. Now, Idaho Democrats and others on the left are trying to prevent initiative tightening by the Legislature. It’s obvious that outside money and support in more liberal communities are tilting the outcomes. A recent “road show” on the issue in Twin Falls attracted only a small audience of mostly left-partisans on the topic.

From the right, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has been trying to whip up opposition to Common Core educational standards, which education conservatives have long resisted as yet another failed education “reform” foisted on people by a one-size-fits-all federal directive.

I served on the House Education Committee at the time the Common Core standards were being debated. The chief proponent then was Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, a Republican, who’s hardly a federal education expansionist. The main opposition came from the liberal teachers’ union and other “edu-crat” groups.

Now, the roles are reversed. Many conservatives think the standards are flawed, but educators seem to generally like the measurement tool. Could it be that political perspectives play a role here?

Many observers in the Founding Fathers era decried the rise of political parties, or “factions” as they were the called then. James Madison in The Federalist Papers (#10) was particularly suspicious, but he recognized that different views made for a healthy republic.

Adherence to majority rule while protecting minority rights is key tension in national and Idaho politics where the give-and-take allows dissent to be heard, but not to govern arbitrarily. This lets the “steam out” of disputes which otherwise would likely accumulate and lead to heightened discord and polarization. That’s what we see in Europe, where political partisans often take to the streets.

In Idaho, we see this political pressure “released” on many issues, even some intense ones like gun rights, Medicaid expansion and redistricting. Opinions are voiced; differences are noted, usually respectfully. That’s why the “You’re a RINO” from the far-rights is disheartening; it reflects a cheapening of public service, a rise in internal partisan acrimony and an increase in personal animosities.

Tirades from the left are no better. We see that in the over-the-top rhetoric of young socialists and fervent environmental activists, for whom anything Republican or Trumpian is a pathway to Hell.

At one political meeting I attended, a particularly recalcitrant individual continuously interrupted the proceedings, shrilly demanding this and that. It wasn’t about the issue really, but about the power climbing and the putting down of others.

Long-time Idaho political observers say the state has been through periods like this before, but recent intrigues and conspiratorial musings now seem heightened.

Perhaps it’s the tenor of the age in which we live. More than a century ago, a British observer, Lord James Bryce, noted in The American Commonwealth (1888) that politics “brings out the basest qualities of human nature.”

One can’t help but wonder what he would make of Congress today or the internal strife of state partisan factions. There are upsides to such tensions in the letting off of “steam,” although that may not be always evident in the heat of the moment.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.”  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..