A Moscow man is hoping to depoliticize the debate over the state’s handling of the coronavirus and has formed a group – called Idaho Strong Community – that aims to bring “a reasonable, truthful and rational” voice to the table.

“We should be focusing on the real problem, which is the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions,” said Gabriel Rench, a 41-year-old Moscow business consultant who in November lost his bid for Latah County commissioner. “In Idaho, over 80 percent of the deaths (from COVID-19) have come from those 70 years of age and older. If you back that up 10 years, over 92 percent of the deaths have come from 60 years and older. If you look at the (Centers for Disease Control) data, 94 percent of those deaths came from those with 2.9 pre-existing conditions.”

He says that Gov. Brad Little is stoking fears by highlighting COVID-19 deaths to younger people. Rench’s message is that lockdowns don’t work, either for businesses or working Idahoans, and there is no justification for mask mandates.

Rench acknowledges that eliminating politics from the conversation may be easier said than done, given the political environment and considering that Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin has been a focus of two news conferences put together by Idaho Strong. She has been a lightning rod in Idaho politics for her defiance of Little’s emergency orders and speculation swirls about her running for Little’s job in 2022.

And there’s no shred of depoliticizing or calming about Rench’s views about mask mandates and liberals in general.

“The liberals don’t believe in science. ... A girl can become a boy and a boy can be a girl and play in a girls’ sport,” Rench says. “I don’t have the time of day to listen to a liberal about science.”

His outlook doesn’t make him a popular figure in Moscow, which leans more to the left. But he makes sure the conservative voice is out there with his CrossPolitic television program and podcast. In September, he joined church members in a mass protest of the city’s mask ordinance and was arrested — which drew reactions from President Donald Trump and conservative commentators.

So much for political cleansing.

But the messages coming from participants in his news conferences — which include pastors, business operators, law-enforcement officers and medical professionals — are more measured. They don’t go out of their way to blast the governor, but they clearly oppose his actions.

“We don’t have all the answers, but we do believe in the Constitution and that Idahoans should have the ability to serve one another. We’re in a health crisis, yet we are telling people they cannot provide for their families, which in itself is a health problem,” Rench says.

“Some people in the medical community are afraid to speak up because of the politicizing of this crisis and the fear of them losing their jobs. There are people who call the police when they see somebody not wearing a mask,” he says. “When the government politicizes a situation, shuts down business, free speech and the rights of healthy citizens to provide for their families, we are compounding and making the crisis worse.”

Which brings us to McGeachin, who has been at odds with Little since the pandemic hit Idaho. Rench says the lieutenant governor has made it clear that her involvement in the news conferences does not mean she is looking into running for governor. But if she does?

“I’m very open to supporting her,” Rench says. “What we need is strong, conservative, principled leadership in Idaho and Brad Little has been unprincipled in unbelievable ways. What conservative politician thinks they can shut down your business, shut down your means for supporting your family while taking a taxpayer-funded paycheck? That is unprincipled to the highest degree. Every politician that has done that should step down and never return to politics again.”

We’ll see what happens with McGeachin soon enough. In the meantime, Rench will continue building his base with Idaho Strong while having plenty of talking points for his podcasts.

Malloy is a veteran Idaho journalist and columnist. His email address is ctmalloy@outlook.com