There are $ 6 million from the Donald Trump administration sitting at the table in Idaho, and the attempt to take them has caused a great deal of noise.
In the months since the Republican House of Representatives first submitted early childhood education grants to the legislature, far-right opponents have insisted, despite evidence and assurances, that the grants will be used to “indoctrinate”
Proponents of the grant include the state’s two Republican senators and its business lobby, but its most vocal opponents describe it as a “battle for the soul of America.”
The real battle, however, seems to be against the influence of the final voices in Idaho politics. Although a seemingly obscure battle, the intensity of the struggle in the state and the bloody language used by its opponents reveal much about American politics in the post-Trump era.
This is a place where conspiracy theories are falling apart and where even some Republican lawmakers are struggling to combat the extremism of many of their supporters, who have come to the conclusion that young children’s education grants pose a serious threat to their way of life. of life.
Mike Sats, executive director of a new effort to combat extremism in Idaho, the Idaho Project 97, said: or liberal or any ideology. “
As for the early childhood subsidy, people who would be affected by it are watching and waiting to see if the money will be available to improve access to care – a typical family in the country spends 25% of their annual income on care for a newborn and a four-year-old child.
Voting in the house whether to accept the money or not is expected every day. The house initially rejected the funds in early March, but the state senate approved an amended version of the bill by one vote earlier this month.
Supporters have flooded local news with opinions that clarify misconceptions about the grant and explain exactly how the money will be used, but they face a mountain of misinformation coming from some right-wing lawmakers and the libertarian group Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF).
Republican Charlie Shepard made the announcement last week when he told the Idaho Press that he approved the amended version of the bill after voting against it in March.
Shepard said his earlier concerns about “indoctrination” had been addressed, but his constituents were unaware of the change. “And if I fail to teach them in time what the bill is doing. At the moment, it is almost a political suicide for me to support the bill, “he admitted.
The amended version of the bill includes language specifying that the misappropriated money “should not be used to dictate curricula for use by local staff”. This was also true before, but the additional language makes it legally binding.
The executive director of an Idaho collaboration that could receive some of the funds, Andrew Menzer, said the money would be used to expand childcare capacity and help existing providers stay afloat in Valley County, a picturesque rural region in the west central part of the country.
“We have lost two kindergartens in the last 15 months in our area and this has put about 50 families in a very bad position during a pandemic in terms of how and when they can go to work,” said Menzer, executive director of the Economic Development Council. of the Western Central Mountains.
“Many families found themselves in situations where they had to cut hours or a parent who could not go to work, and this is food at the table at the end of the day for individual families.”
The community now has a short 400 childcare slots. “These are 400 children whose parents cannot go to work,” Menzer said.
People stir the pot
The grant will be donated to local cooperatives such as Mentzer by the Idaho AEYC. This group is separate from its national affiliate, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a professional membership organization for people working in education and child care.
But opponents of the bill see a conspiracy between the two groups.
Their concern is that NAEYC promotes anti-bias training and mentions critical race theory on its website, and the Idaho AEYC has partnered with a local group, the Idaho Library Commission (ICfL), which has received an early childhood grant. age of diversification of libraries. Many opponents of the grant have challenged the resources for various books to which NAEYC and ICfL have links on their websites, although the provision of a variety of books is not required by early childhood grants.
When the Guardian called Republican Lance Clow, he was working on a document to train his fellow lawmakers on what he actually wanted to do with the grant: provide local staff with money to best meet the needs of early childhood in their community.
Clow knows the intricacies of grants better than most: he chairs the homeschooling committee and participates in the first round of funding used to assess the state’s early childhood education and care needs.
“I don’t know if I would call myself a lawyer, but I was in the middle and I don’t see the issues raised,” Clow said.
He sympathizes with Republican colleagues’ concerns about the critical theory of race – he believes some of its principles are divisive – and last week passed a bill banning schools. He said the Idaho AEYC made a mistake by mentioning the national group on its website, something that provided material to opponents of the grant, even though it was not actually related to the use of the money.
“This is a conservative state and local control, the family, the parents … there is a strong emphasis on protecting their rights and allowing this kind of freedom, and the focus of this subsidy has unfortunately shifted to concerns about the national association,” he said.
He is not sure how receptive his colleagues will be to his attempts to clarify misinformation about grants. He has noticed a difference in politicians: some will go out, talk to people and have a dialogue. Others show up in the office, tell people about the evils that need to be stopped and stir the pot, he said.
Another force that stirs the pot is IFF, which continues to oppose grants. His advocacy body, Idaho Freedom Action, has created letter forms for voters to send to representatives this month asking them to vote against the bill, warning that it is a “battle for the soul of America.”
“The Senate bill of 1193 will allow this radical group to teach young children and preschoolers to hate America,” the proposed letter said.
In response to requests for an interview from the Guardian, IFF said it had a policy of not speaking to the media.
One of the most vocal opponents of the bill, Republican Priscilla Giddings, has appeared in recent weeks in IFF’s Woke Story Time videos, where she reads a variety of books, although they are not required by the grant.
Giddings said in an email to the Guardian that he still plans to vote against the money because it will be used to defend a critical theory of race. When asked to provide evidence, she said: “I have a lot of evidence that I will discuss during the debate when it comes to voting.”
“People don’t want Idaho to be ruled by an armed mob”
Lori Fassila, executive director of the Nonprofit Giraffe Laughter Training Centers, said she was “shocked by the lack of understanding in the state building about how important the childcare industry is to our country’s economy.”
Writing to the head of state of Idaho, Fassila explained how the pandemic has seen 200 child care providers in Idaho close in September, a problem that is affecting nationwide: one in six childcare jobs has been lost across the country since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Our industry was already fragile before the pandemic and even more so now,” Fassila wrote. “If it collapses, then our economy will fall.”
Fear-based tactics affecting Idaho law, including after early childhood grants were raised, have raised wider concerns about what is happening in the cabinet.
Earlier this month, Idaho’s editor-in-chief, Scott Mackintosh, published a two-part report entitled “Why Even Republicans Call It the Worst Session of All Time for the Idaho Legislature.” other local media outlets are full of quotes from Idahoans, including Republicans and business leaders concerned about the damage extremism is doing to the state.
Idaho 97 project co-founder Emily Walton said she was prompted to help form the group when the local health council had to cancel its vote on a Covid-19 public health order in December because masked protesters had gathered outside their homes. to some of the board members, including a commissioner whose children were home alone.
Months earlier in August, protesters against coronavirus restrictions made their way to the state capital building and smashed a glass door, a small overview of what was to come to the US Capitol on January 6.
The name of the Idaho 97 project is a play about the “Three Percent” – a right-wing police group. “I believe there are more moderate people in Idaho who don’t want to be run by an armed mob, so we started,” Walton said.
The description of the armed mob is literal. Walton and other Idaho 97 members described how it became customary for people armed with assault rifles and dressed in fatiga to patrol the streets of Boise.
And at least four Republicans in the chamber have ties to extremist, anti-government militia movements, including oath-takers and Three Percent, according to the Idaho statesman. One of these representatives, Chad Christensen, cites the Guardians of the Oath and the John Birch Society, also an anti-government extremist movement, as organizations in which he is part of his official legislative biography. All four voted against the early childhood subsidy.
Elizabeth Neumann works in the Trump administration as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security to fight terrorism and reduce threats. She resigned in April 2020 and talked about how the Trump administration ignored the threat of domestic extremism.
Neumann, a lifelong Republican, is co-director of the Republican Accountability Project, which seeks to uphold democracy and hold accountable those Republicans who sought to annul the 2020 election.
Neumann said the noise surrounding childcare in Idaho was indicative of a time when problems were rapidly becoming part of a “constant cycle of outrage” led by far-right figures such as Tucker Carlson and networks such as the One America News Network.
“Right now, what we see in many conservative or Republican circles is very much based on fear,” Neumann said. “So you can almost get rid of the problems and in six months it will be something else, and that’s because the right, especially as a minority party at the moment, is being told that their values are not being valued, they are no longer sought, that they were expelled and revoked. “