It started with criticism of Boise State University’s first woman president. Then they attacked freshman survey classes in Boise and at North Idaho College, the main institution that trains talent and provides upward mobility for thousands of citizens in North Idaho’s most populous region. Next, if I recall, they yelled about women’s hygiene products in university bathrooms? And then it became more ominous, with legislation targeting transgender children, a move to end citizen initiatives, voter restrictions and selected, politicized attacks on funding of our beloved Idaho colleges and universities. But recently, it really jumped the shark, with a state senator decrying some of the most institutionally conservative elements in our society — big tech companies — as being liberal.
Where does this end? Look, almost every big corporation in America is a tech company of some sort in this day and age, even Coke and Delta and Major League Baseball.
All of the attacks lead to this: Idaho is on the verge of producing students who will not possess the workplace skills — those ever-important soft skills that lead to a happy and motivated workforce — that Idaho employers expect. The top of the talent pool that is already here, and that is extremely mobile, is beginning to leave the state for greener (and less extremist) pastures, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract young talent to a state they see as socially regressive at best, and openly hostile to a diverse workforce and community at worst. All of this strife is because Idaho’s political machinery is enabling isolated and extremist visions from small patches of Idaho to hijack the conversation. Idaho companies know that diversity and equity are essential to doing business, to innovation, to democracy. And Idaho universities are SMART to follow the lead of industry.
The Idaho 97 Project formed, at first, as a grassroots response to failed public health measures. However, it quickly bloomed into a response to the rising tide of extremism in Idaho politics. Anti-mask and anti-science campaigning is just one symptom of right-wing extremism gone wild in our state. Although the Project quickly gained thousands of followers across the state, it is clear that the citizens cannot combat the scourge of political extremism in Idaho alone. We need your help. Idaho is known for our business-friendly climate and remains an amazing place to live and work. But after years of shutting down debate, defunding essential government activities, closing off primaries, attacking critics and lashing out and labeling, it’s time for Idaho companies to stand up with us. And now, with Senator Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene’s ill-informed attack on the burgeoning Idaho tech sector, it is clear that the fringe elements in the Legislature are willing to be anti-business to achieve their goals.
While Idaho may be experiencing an economic boom as we emerge from the pandemic, how long will that last with Idaho’s primary, secondary and post-secondary education institutions hobbled by our dysfunctional legislature? How will your companies remain competitive in an environment that is so politically toxic that it makes top talent difficult to recruit? The answer is it won’t last, and you won’t remain competitive. It is time for Idaho’s big businesses to stand up and join forces with the thousands of Idahoans across the state — conservative, liberal and everything in-between — to challenge the extremism that is running rampant and unchecked across the state. It is no longer enough to have hushed conversations with select government leaders, to focus on only your local region of the state or to rely on other organizations to accomplish your political objectives. You need to step up and join forces across the state without regard to region, party or belief and push for elected leadership that puts the interests of Idaho’s citizens and Idaho’s businesses first. It is time to lead from the front.
Mike Satz is the executive director of The Idaho 97 Project.