Last week’s primary saw a convincing win for Idaho’s true conservatives. As reported by the Idaho Dispatch’s Greg Pruett, the majority of Idaho’s “Liberty Legislators” retained their seats in the statehouse and will be joined by several promising newcomers. The end result is that Idaho’s 2021 legislative session will likely feature the most conservative legislature in the state’s history.
Obviously, the immediate impact of the primary means a more fiscally responsible, less intrusive government in the Gem State. It will also, no doubt, mean that second amendment rights will be better protected, taxes will likely be lowered and the grocery tax will hopefully be abolished.
Perhaps more interesting, however, is what these primary results mean for Idaho in comparison to the region. Although conservatives have continued to do well in traditional strongholds such as the South, and have opened up new states in the Midwest and the Rust Belt; certain states in the Mountain West, especially Arizona, Montana, Colorado, and Nevada, have become increasingly liberal. This trend goes back more than a decade to the early 2000s.
Both Nevada and Colorado voted for the Republican nominee in a presidential election as recently as 2004. But, in 2019, Nevada elected their first Democratic governor in 20 years, meaning that all of that state’s executive officers are now Democrats with only the exception of the state treasurer. Both of Nevada’s US Senators are Democrats and all of its US Representatives, but one, are Democrats. All of Colorado’s statewide executive offices are held by Democrats and four out of seven of Colorado’s US Representatives are Democrats. Montana is still considered a safe conservative state in national elections, but at a state level, both the Governor and Lt. Governor’s offices are held by Democrats.
Both Colorado and Montana already have one US Senate seat held by Democrats, and both of their Republican senators, Cory Gardner and Steve Daines respectively, will face very competitive challenges this fall. Additionally, Martha McSally a Republican senator from Arizona will face off against Democrat Mark Kelly in a race that promises to be difficult. These three seats, held by Gardner, Daines, and McSally, are counted among the most vulnerable Republican-held seats in the Senate this year. The threat posed by Democrats to these Republican incumbents emphasizes the shifting political climate in the Mountain West region.
So how did this happen? All these states were competitive states in national and statewide races in past years, but over the last decade or two, all have become increasingly purple if not outright blue democratic strongholds. Many blue state democrats are leaving their home states to escape high taxation and over-bearing government control, among other things. But many of them are bringing progressive politics along with them. A recent opinion piece from Merrill Matthews published in The Hill, January 2020 says, “If you are a blue-leaning Californian who wants to escape the Golden State’s drift into madness but stay on the left coast, Oregon might be a reasonable alternative. Ditto for Colorado, which has turned from red to bluish over the last decade or so as Californians increasingly head for the hills, so to speak. But that trend also highlights a problem: Some of the people fleeing destructive blue-state taxes and regulations appear to drag their pro-big-government philosophy with them – apparently oblivious to the fact that those policies destroyed the state they are trying to escape.”
As liberal newcomers move into traditionally conservative states, they tend to flock to more urban areas. Denver in Colorado, Salt Lake City in Utah, and Phoenix in Arizona are excellent examples of this phenomenon. The effect that these enclaves have is to sway the state to the left, often over-whelming more conservative, rural areas.
This overall trend contrasts wildly with the results of last Tuesday’s primaries in Idaho. The results of these primaries show that Idaho voters mean to be the exception to the rule. At a time when a majority of the surrounding geographic region has either become a liberal stronghold, or a purple swing state, Idaho voters have just elected one of, if not the single, most principled conservative slate of Republican candidates for the legislature in history.
This is even more significant when you consider that Idaho is experiencing the same changes that have made other western states liberal strongholds in the first place. Just like other western states before it, Idaho is experiencing an influx of newcomers from other states, especially California. The Boise area specifically has seen such a flood of new arrivals that it was recently rated by Forbes as the fastest-growing city in the United States. Unlike the electorate in those states, however, Idaho voters seem committed to keeping Idaho not just a red state in name, but one truly committed to conservative principles. Perhaps this is a backlash to the liberal trends of its neighboring states, or to the political attitudes of the new arrivals in the state, but whatever the cause, Idaho, for the time being at least, remains committed to its values, and that will not just be a positive thing for Idahoans but will serve as a positive influence on the mountain west region at large. As more and more surrounding states turn blue, the Gem State seeks to remain a conservative diamond in the liberal rough.