Surveying the latest kerfuffle about filling the 6th Legislative District’s House vacancy, Nez Perce County Commissioner Doug Havens observed: “The governor’s going to think we’re all nuts.”
Why wouldn’t Gov. Brad Little reach such a conclusion?
Why wouldn’t a lot of people?
Not long ago, a seat in the state House or Senate was a second or third rung on Nez Perce County’s political ladder. In other words, the people who wound up in the Legislature had spent years — possibly decades — networking in the community.
They were known commodities — business people, mayors and city councilors, and professionals.
Now it’s more like an entry-level position. Credentials take a back seat to ideological purity or — more to the point — loyalty to former President Donald Trump.
At least, it did in the case of Republican Aaron von Ehlinger of Lewiston, who claimed the late Rep. Thyra Stevenson’s seat by a 78 percent margin in the spring 2020 GOP primary. The votes were counted about three weeks after Stevenson died.
Since local Democrats offered no candidate of their own in November, the primary elected von Ehlinger to a two-year term for all intents and purposes. However, there was the matter of filling the remaining months of Stevenson’s unexpired tenure. So Republicans on the legislative district committee nominated von Ehlinger, along with Glen Baldwin of Culdesac and Jim Evans of Lenore.
As soon as von Ehlinger cinched his nomination, Little formally appointed him to the seat.
But other than von Ehlinger’s involvement in protesting Little’s COVID-19 emergency orders at the Nez Perce County courthouse last spring, you didn’t know what you were getting — until:
l He wrapped himself in the Big Lie that Trump won the Nov. 3 election. Both shortly after President Joe Biden’s subsequent victory on Nov. 7 and on the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, von Ehlinger was on the Statehouse steps accusing Democrats of stealing the election.
“I will never forget nor will I forgive the people ... the traitors that stole this election,” he said.
l “Traitor” was a familiar part of his lexicon. When von Ehlinger employed it next, his target was Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. The former Idaho House speaker, father of the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness and 11-term veteran was a “traitor to the people of the great state of Idaho” because he was proposing to breach the four lower Snake River dams to save imperiled salmon and steelhead runs.
l In office for just a few months, von Ehlinger already contracted a raging case of legislative hubris, suggesting lawmakers should second guess how and when local communities invest in public art, such as Lewiston’s “Canoe Wave” sculpture.
l And von Ehlinger has distinguished himself by resigning from office before the House could throw him out for exploiting a 19-year-old legislative intern whose rape allegation against him is under investigation by the Boise Police Department. A House ethics investigation established a pattern of von Ehlinger making unwanted advances toward other legislative staffers and lobbyists.
None of that seemed to alter how the local GOP’s legislative committee went about nominating von Ehlinger’s replacment to Gov. Little.
Not hours after they submitted the names of Baldwin, Robert Blair of the Leland area and Hannah Liedkie of Lewiston to Little, members on the panel had buyer’s remorse. They’re scrambling to revise the list before Little can act.
Not because any of them lack qualifications.
Not because of an undisclosed financial failure.
Not because of a heretofore unknown criminal record.
They’re unhinged by the threat that Liedkie might be less than a total ideologue. Her offense? She had her picture taken next to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — and she may have expressed herself a little too freely on social media.
Among a group of Republicans who earlier this year nearly ousted Vice Chairman Eric Peterson of Lewiston for stating the truth about Trump instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, there’s no latitude for independent thought.
Long since passed are the days when people picked a legislator based on ability, experience and character.
Until local Democrats make more of an effort to give voters a choice, the GOP aspires to be more than simply the party of Trump or Idaho comes up with a better way to nominate people for higher office, this is what you’re stuck with. And, as Havens so correctly surmised, none of this reflects well on any of us. — M.T.