Green streak in deep-red Idaho

There is probably no “redder” state in America than Idaho. Trust me. I grew up on the banks of the Snake River in an extended family that included a three-term Democratic governor who made the fatal political mistake of running against “The Lion of the Senate,” William E. Borah. (I know this only from family stories and the history books. That campaign was way before my time.) In the decades since Ben Ross’s final campaign there have been only a handful of Democrats elected statewide. One of my earliest campaigns was helping elect Cecil Andrus governor before he was tapped by Jimmy Carter to serve as secretary of the Interior. Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) was a hero of mine in large part because of his courage in leading opposition to the War in Vietnam alongside the first Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.). That was years before Sens. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) and Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.) forced President Lyndon Johnson from office.

There is probably no “redder” state in America than Idaho. Trust me. I grew up on the banks of the Snake River in an extended family that included a three-term Democratic governor who made the fatal political mistake of running against “The Lion of the Senate,” William E. Borah. (I know this only from family stories and the history books. That campaign was way before my time.) In the decades since Ben Ross’s final campaign there have been only a handful of Democrats elected statewide. One of my earliest campaigns was helping elect Cecil Andrus governor before he was tapped by Jimmy Carter to serve as secretary of the Interior. Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) was a hero of mine in large part because of his courage in leading opposition to the War in Vietnam alongside the first Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.). That was years before Sens. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) and Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.) forced President Lyndon Johnson from office.

Church was eventually defeated, Andrus was an anomaly who was able to attract enough Republican votes to return to the governor’s office after leaving Interior. But the state has voted reliably Republican in every presidential election I can recall and has sent a consistent stream of conservative Republicans to Congress and the Senate for decades.

That makes an event last week quite remarkable. Former Vice President Al Gore came to town, appearing at the Frank Church Conference on Public Affairs at Boise State University. You know, the little school with the big football team. Gore and his “Inconvenient Truth” road show sold out a 10,000-seat auditorium faster than Bruce Springsteen’s last concert there. People were actually scalping tickets in the parking lot to hear a politician talk about global warming.

Sure, the movie version has been nominated for an Academy Award and, yes, Al Gore is the biggest political name to visit the Gem State in some time. But this is a state where logging trucks rule the road, every pickup has a gun rack and an American flag decal and you can’t raise crops without gas for your tractor and fertilizer for your fields. It is a state full of those who hunt and fish, but not environmentalists.

Idaho’s citizens could be expected to support the global-warming views of industry and the White House.  Although it doesn’t have the oil wells of Oklahoma, many of its political leaders were recently echoing the views of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) that global warming was a hoax. Inhofe has since moved slightly — telling Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) Environment and Public Works Committee, which he chaired until Democrats won control of the Senate, that there is “no convincing scientific evidence” that human activity is causing global warming. He prefers to blame the Weather Channel for growing concerns. They “would like to have people afraid all the time,” he told the committee. And we thought it was either Fox or CNN manipulating public opinion.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) held hearings of his Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week and heard testimony from a long list of scientists that they had been pressured by the White House to change research or alter language, even eliminating references to the very words “global warming.” “It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change,” concluded Waxman. Such a campaign did exist. My firm was once approached by an energy giant about a media campaign to portray global warming as “junk science.” We declined.

It is clear that Americans got the message about global warming in spite of all efforts to bury it. In research we commissioned before the spate of recent reports of melting ice caps and the furor over Al Gore’s film, nearly two-thirds believed the environment had “gotten worse,” and 70 percent were very concerned about changes resulting from global warming.

There is a message in these numbers and the thousands who flocked to hear Al Gore in a state Democrats automatically write off at election time. The message is the medium. The Internet and the digital-communications revolution it spawned make it very difficult to keep people from seeing what is going on in the world. Whether it is the environment, war, famine or genocide — voters can now see and judge for themselves. If you’ll pardon the pun, that is going to have a lot of politicians on the hot seat in the future.

Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen Strategic Advocacy.
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bgoddard@thehill.com