Column | Idaho can be a difficult place to live
There’s something different about the state of Idaho that’s beyond the adjective “quirky.” My husband and I may have lived here for a decade, yet we’re still learning what makes an Idahoan.
A case in point is the debut of a new perfume for women called Frites, French for French fries. Care to dab the scent of oily potatoes beyond your ears? The price for Frites is right: A 1.7-ounce crystalline bottle retails for just $1.89, maybe the price of an order of French fries. Sadly, the fragrance, produced by the Idaho Potato Commission, is sold out.
Potato pride has long been a hallmark of the state, and you might know that in 2012, the Idaho Potato Commission built a six-ton, 28-foot-long concrete replica. The gargantuan tuber was then placed on the back of a flatbed truck, and for seven years it was hauled all over the country for folks to admire.
Its purpose, of course, was spreading the word about baking potatoes that should all have the word “Idaho” in front of them. After the faux potato retired from touring, it found a second life as an AirBnB. Travelers can now sleep inside the potato and perhaps dream of sour cream and chives.
Yet when anyone reads about the doings of the Idaho State Legislature, some, like me, find themselves puzzled, entertained or infuriated. Sometimes all three.
Legislators recently debated a bill that would continue Idaho’s participation in the Powerball lottery after the game extends to the United Kingdom and Australia. Some argued that gambling was always bad, but Rep. Heather Scott came up with a novel political objection: “It just doesn’t make sense that Idaho wants to expand our gambling into communist countries.”
The Legislature also talked about prohibiting any state agency from mandating masks to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. When Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri was asked what he would do if a new disease emerged with an even higher death rate than COVID-19, he explained, “…If we had massive people dying in the streets … we wouldn’t need mandates (as) everyone would be protecting themselves automatically.”
Then there’s Republican State Rep. Dorothy Moon, who is running for Secretary of State. She introduced her “Secure Election Act” that made voting more difficult by banning election-day registration, requiring proof of citizenship, and ruling student identification unacceptable.
And all is not well at the top, because Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin somehow thinks that she was elected governor. As soon as Republican Gov. Brad Little leaves the state, she rescinds his executive orders or tries to send the Idaho National Guard to the Mexican border. But when Little returns, he immediately reinstates his orders. Hoping to win the Republican primary and actually become the next governor, McGeachin has welcomed the endorsement of Michelle Malkin, a right-wing commentator with links to hate and white supremacist groups.
But Idaho’s biggest continuing embarrassment, Ammon Bundy, won’t have to battle anybody in the Republican primary. Bundy said he’s now running for governor as an Independent because “the Republican establishment in Idaho is full of filth and corruption.” Convicted of trespassing and resisting arrest, Bundy argues that his time spent campaigning should count as fulfilling his community service obligation.
Everyone knows that finding an affordable rental is tough in the West, and Idaho is no exception. Landlords were once free to advertise units no longer for rent, charge exorbitant application fees and accept an unlimited number of applications from unwitting applicants. A court ruled these practices illegal in Boise in 2019, but a bill in the Legislature would make the shady dealings legal again. What’s probably more painful for renters is that Idaho gave up $22 million in federal COVID-19 emergency aid that was meant to prevent evictions.
Yet residents stand to be well protected in Idaho. Supported by both Gov. Little and the Idaho National Guard, a bill has been introduced to repeal a longstanding state law blocking private militias and paramilitary organizations. Some of us, it should be noted, don’t think we need more armed people looking for a fight.
Nonetheless, although I occasionally wonder why, I love Idaho’s natural beauty, its strangeness— and the excellent potatoes.
(Crista Worthy is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation in the West. She is the author of Idaho Aviation, a photo-filled book about Idaho’s backcountry airstrips and aviation culture.)