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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of June 20 - June 26, 2001

  Opinion Column

GOP tolerates only so much free thinking

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

What U.S. Sen. John McCain is enduring in Arizona is a reminder of what happens when a political party — in this case, Republicans — considers itself iron-fisted, authoritarian and flawless and demands unthinking obedience.

McCain, the maverick poster boy of disenchanted voters nationwide, is the target of two recall movements and a growing crescendo of demands from some Arizona Republicans to either march witlessly in lockstep to the GOP drumbeat or leave the party.

There are plenty of grounds for disliking McCain. But thinking for himself, using his own political judgments and acting on his own conscience should not be among them. Those are qualities, not failings, of character.

But Republicans, more so than Democrats, consider unquestioning party loyalty absolutely paramount, and straying from rigid partisan doctrine is denounced as sheer apostasy.

Could it be that Idaho’s Republican Party also is embarking on a course that covets power rather than vision and intelligence?

From state Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, comes a warning that Republicans may try to carve up districts where the Idaho Legislature’s pathetic handful of Democrats reign so the GOP can seize all but total control of state policy-making. The 35-member Senate has three Democrats and the 70-member House has nine Democrats, or about 11 percent of the voting power.

Some hint of just what Idaho’s Republican brass expects of elected GOP officials cropped up when Idaho GOP Chairman Trent Clark angrily denounced Boise Mayor Brent Coles for merely presenting outgoing President Clinton, a Democrat, with an award of appreciation from the Conference of Mayors, of which Coles was chairman.

One would think that having 85 percent of the Legislature’s voting power — plus all but two of Idaho’s constitutional state executive offices and numerous state and county offices —  would satisfy Republicans. With that bloc, they can soundly snuff out any political ideas that don’t meet the conservative GOP litmus test for the status quo and seem too progressive.

Perhaps Idaho Republicans have forgotten Lord Acton’s admonition that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

A new political day may be dawning: the fastest growing voter bloc is Independents, especially since John McCain’s defiant spirit of political independence stirred voter disgust with political parties.

In time, independent-thinking politicians with an eye on Independents will begin to defy banal thinking of political parties and show vision and courage rather than sounding like parrots.

In more than a dozen states, citizens groups, courts, governors or legislators are fed up with systems that elect, rather than appoint, judges and have launched drives to take politics out of the courts.

Idaho is not one of them, not surprisingly.

Michigan’s Republican chief executive, Gov. John Engler, sums up the growing discontent: his state’s system encourages election campaigns for judgeships that "have a less than helpful effect in terms of the image of the judiciary."

That’s shorthand for judges who politick like run-of-the-mill politicians.

They make impossible claims merely for votes and usually pass the hat for campaign donations even among lawyers who appear in their courts. Some judges stray from case law by making political rulings to keep voters happy, leaving it to an appeals court to reverse them with unpopular decisions.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.