We're not all Right in Idaho

  • Steve Bunk

 

A March Gallup poll probably surprised no one when it determined that Idaho, Utah and Wyoming rank among the five most conservative states in America. The trio came in second, fourth and fifth, respectively, putting them in the archetypal company of Mississippi, which was first, and Alabama, third.

Being a conservative in a blue state or a liberal Democrat in a conservative one is a lot like being gay. It's acceptable, or becoming more so, and nobody's likely to hang you for it, but if you're smart, you'll keep your orientation to yourself when you're among strangers. It's always a bit of a strain to live among a majority who are viscerally opposed to many of the ideas that make such obvious sense to you.

The problem, of course, is that it's so hard to convince other people to change their minds. If you spend enough time surrounded by people whose political and philosophical leanings differ sharply from yours, it's inevitable that you end up making friends with your so-called "enemies." At that point, you'll probably have to admit they're not all stupid or raving mad, or even ignorant. When you're exposed over time to such people and realize they aren't just caricatures, you're forced to reassess.

Once you've breached the protective barriers of contempt -- no matter whether you're liberal or conservative -- you have to try to understand your neighbors. How could your new friends be so wrongheaded? How did they become what they are? What happened to them?

Alas, you've stumbled upon an eternal mystery, with a solution so far unknown to psychology, genetics, sociology or theology. You just have to accept your friends for who they are. Better stay away from politics: Don't talk about taxes, or health care, or education, or governmental regulation, or the poor, the rich, the new mining project, global climate change, religion, evolution, abortion, sex or drugs. You can still talk about rock 'n' roll, though. And football.

It's understandable that you might want to seek out an enclave of like-minded folks, if you can find one. In Idaho, where I live, there's essentially only one place for liberals. It's the city's first suburb, which began to grow in 1878, a few blocks north of downtown Boise.

It's called the North End, and its legislative district voters haven't elected a Republican in 15 years. Many North End homes lie within a historic district, which means, among other things, that these houses boast a lot of creaking floorboards and boxy bedrooms that would probably appall those who favor newness in their accommodations. But from this neighborhood, you can ride a bicycle or walk into town, and that's make-or-break for most liberals who fuss over fumes. The neighborhood's iconic business is a co-op grocery store full of latter-day hippies. The local newsletter prints stories about running and biking in the North End's foothills, or it describes how a dance company is renovating a disused church for its headquarters.

When you go to a North End party, you can expect to hear liberal-flavored conversation; the word  "Obama" is not an epithet here. You might also hear the views of conservatives unfazed by where they are, but their voices tend to resound less impressively within the walls of the stronghold. It's not unusual to hear liberals in the North End proclaim that some of their best friends are conservatives, although that doesn't mean these friends don't deplore each other's views, albeit silently.

You could be forgiven for fantasizing that the liberals were originally bused to Boise in order to integrate the city, but that an administrative mistake was made and they were accidentally all assigned to the same school, where they're a majority. "Hooray," they say, huddling together for relief from the strangeness around them. Both liberals and conservatives in Boise sometimes say: "We two sides don't understand each other; that much is clear. Yet here we are living together, within the structure of all our unwritten rules about what can and cannot be discussed. Isn't it interesting?" Yes, though sometimes all that trying so hard and determination to be tolerant can be excruciating.

At least we have one thing in common: our love for where we live and our fierce, though often opposing, views about how to protect this place. Nobody's giving up; nobody's leaving. If nothing else, I think that's a good start.

Steve Bunk is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Boise, Idaho.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.