The anti-stay-home protests in Idaho, carried initially to the Statehouse and later to the homes of individual people, have their echoes all over the country. The intention seems to be an echo of the Tea Party protests of a dozen years ago. The political result is likely to be different.
In reporting about the upcoming May 2 ReOpen Oregon rally at Salem and a counterpart in Olympia on April 19, the Portland Willamette Week said: “The protests may seem familiar, even wearyingly predictable, to Oregonians who’ve watched right-wing groups use Portland for political theater — and brawls — intended to energize President Trump’s base.”
This sort of thing was newer and fresher a decade ago. And now? The Idaho Statehouse rally, in opposition to Gov. Brad Little’s shelter orders, seemed to draw an unimpressive number of people (photos indicated a turnout of a few hundred at best) and have the look and sound of a retread. There’s no evidence it’s breaking new political ground. Polling in Idaho specifically on COVID-19 regulation has been sparse, but the national picture is clear: Americans overwhelmingly favor social isolation actions by state and local governments and express more concern about lifting them too quickly than not soon enough. In Oregon, a poll by DHM Research about Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-home orders — more restrictive than Idaho’s — found 82 percent favor continuing the March 23 “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. National percentages are just a little lower.
Idaho isn’t Oregon, but it’s hard not to conclude that Idahoans overall probably strongly support what Gov. Little has done. They can see easily that the number of new COVID-19 cases in Idaho has been dropping, like other shelter-in-place states but in contrast to states without similar orders, evidence that the rules have been working. (One Idaho Facebook poster cited some of those latter increases: Oklahoma: plus 53 percent, Arkansas: plus 60 percent, Nebraska: plus 74 percent, Iowa: plus 82 percent, South Dakota: plus 205 percent.)
Several Idaho Republican officeholders seem to be competing to serve as the face of the anti-Little opposition on this: Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, Rep. Heather Scott, maybe even House Speaker Scott Bedke. But the most visible spokesman now probably is Ammon Bundy, who has been active in several anti-federal showdowns around the West. Lately, he’s helped organize events — such as an Easter gathering of about 60 people — protesting the Little orders.
Last week came a group of crowd events, to deliver written complaints — which one participant called (on Facebook) a “regress of grievances” — to the governor, to a health official and to a police officer — at their homes. It was more than just that; it was a large, hostile group marching up those private residences in a confrontational setting. No violence was reported, but under those conditions how easily might it have been set off?
The Meridian police officer had been trying to remove a group from a city park when he arrested anti-vaccination activist Sara Walton Brady, who had refused to leave.
Bundy reportedly yelled out to the police standing in front of the besieged officer’s home, “The people will not allow you guys to do this for very long. You will not go into the park and arrest people. You will not go into parks and arrest mothers, and you will not go anywhere and arrest us for exercising what our rights are.”
Bundy’s perception evidently is that he and his backers have a right to risk spreading disease among people trying, in a challenging environment, to stay healthy. (It’s an argument, as noted here a couple of weeks ago, someone might use to justify his right to drive drunk.) He also seems to think he can give orders to local and state law enforcement officers.
But what will the people allow? Many more of them, many more, seem to be more on Little’s side than on Bundy’s. We may see some reflection of that in the elections not so far ahead. This may be a political movement that doesn’t pan out as intended.