Five Reasons Why Idaho is Off my List of Travel Destinations for Now

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Hike to waterfalls. Savor local cuisine. Explore wild forests. Paddle the best whitewater in the country. You can do all this in Idaho, and for those of us who live in neighboring Washington state, it’s all just a drive or a short flight away. The capital of Boise, with its network of bike paths, brew pubs and unique Basque heritage and food, has been on my list from before the pandemic.

So why am I not writing about the five best reasons to visit a state that has so much to offer? Sadly, I’ve come up instead with five reasons why NOT to spend a vacation in Idaho, or for that matter, Florida, Arizona, or Texas. All share efforts by state legislators to push for new laws criminalizing what many of us consider our rights as American citizens and measures to protect our health and the health of others.

Not all Idaho residents or business owners support a recent string of extreme actions by Republican lawmakers, but enough voters do to get these legislators reelected. Consider too the lack of response when Idaho’s Lieut. Gov. Janice McGeachin spoke recently at the white nationalist America First Political Action conference. “Unfortunately, Idaho’s business organizations have been largely silent,” wrote Tara Malek, a former Kootenai County prosecutor and the co-owner of Smith + Malek law firm, in the Idaho Capital Sun. Malek sees the rise of extremist ideology turned-into-law as a “threat to business, industry and economic opportunity in our state.”

She’s right. If we believe in voting with our feet, we won’t leave any footprints in Idaho this year. Here are five reasons why:

No. 1: Idaho Gov. Brad Little this week signed into law legislation that would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and allow potential family members to sue a doctor who performs them after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo. This Texas copy-cat law was passed by both houses. 

The law allows the father, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles of a “preborn child” to each sue an abortion provider for a minimum of $20,000 in damages within four years after the abortion. Rapists can’t file a lawsuit under the law, but a rapist’s relatives could. The law is scheduled to take effect 30 days after the signing although court challenges are expected.

No. 2: A bill passed by the Idaho House would make it a crime for most employers to require a coronavirus vaccine or make an employee disclose their vaccination status. If passed into law, it would become a misdemeanor for employers to refuse to hire or to fire someone for not being vaccinated for a coronavirus or any vaccine made available under an emergency use authorization. It would also become illegal to refuse to hire or to fire an employee for refusing to disclose their vaccination status. Each violation of the bill would be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. 

This comes in a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and whose hospitals not long ago were so overwhelmed with Covid cases that they had to offload patients to health care facilities in Utah, Washington, and other states. 

No. 3: In killing a bill that would have made gender-affirming care a felony, Senate Republicans said they “strongly” oppose “any and all gender reassignment and surgical manipulation of the natural sex” on minors. They pulled the plug because they agreed that the legislation “undermines” a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children,” but it passed the House by a nearly party-line vote that would have made it a felony — punishable by up to life in prison — to provide minors with hormones, puberty blockers, or gender-affirming surgery.

No. 4: Idaho librarians would face jail time for lending “harmful” books if some house lawmakers got their way. The proposed bill appears dead in the Senate, but passed 51-14 in the House. Its Republican sponsor claimed it was a necessary way to protect  children from what she claims are obscene and pornographic books in libraries across the state. 

No. 5: Idaho has some of the nation’s most liberal gun laws. Residents do not need a permit to open-carry. That goes for state parks, restaurants, bars, and other places tourists might go. Tell me how hiking near or being seated in a restaurant next to a stranger packing a gun is supposed to make me feel safe.

Could things change? I think so. I’d like to make that trip to Boise and beyond. Just not right now. 

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Carol Pucci is a former Seattle Times travel writer with a blog at travel.carolpucci.com.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Does this recommendation make it politically incorrect to raft Hells Canyon of the Snake River, which forms the border between ultraconservative Idaho and liberal Oregon.
    Historic ranches, best campsites found on Idaho side, along with takeout points to scout upcoming rapids.

    • Yes – that what she is saying and it is ridiculous – having grown up around their, having family their, remembering the history of Richard Butler and the Aryan Nation, the Order . . . today we are worried about folks in Idaho caring guns in the woods . . . wow

  2. As you note, many Seattleites have strong ties to Idaho. So many own second homes in Ketchum and other recreational hot spots that it is not even surprising to run into Seattle friends there regularly in lift lines or on hiking trails. In one sense, they are now trapped; if they all decide at once to sell off and leave the state, they could depress the price of the real estate they are trying to sell. They can stay, but typically not vote, and political activism by outsiders has a way of backfiring. It will be interesting to see what such half-plants do: by staying, do they implicitly support the right-wing project in Idaho? By leaving would they make a difference? Idaho is reportedly enjoying a boom in immigration from other red states these days. Perhaps Seattleites who sell their second homes to Oklahomans will simply be participating in the next wave of the The Big Sort, as America divides.

    • I feel like taking your vacation dollars to a second home isn’t that much different. You’re choosing to go to a place where you’re contributing money and have zero political influence. As far as sorting, a second home in Idaho is already sorting. By economics, and by sexual orientation and race. You’re not getting a proportional selection of Seattle folks feeling welcome to join you in Idaho.

      There are always justifications. If everybody sells the price might go down. And of course the old, “but I like it there.” Everybody has their threshold. Some people are willing to put up a Black Lives Matter sign in a neighborhood where nobody’s going to disagree with them. And if that’s what you’re willing to do, that’s better than nothing. Maybe some of those Seattle folks are highly visible alternatives in Idaho. Maybe they go there and blend in.

      At what point would you sell your membership in a country club that had tacitly hostile policies towards your friends? Or towards strangers? Or would you partition your life and leave politics at home where it’s visible and also uncontroversial?

    • You should boycott a state you don’t feel comfortable visiting. It is a Seattle thing. Lord knows we have it sooo hard here in the US.

    • My mom drives to Moscow once or twice a month to buy grocery’s because of the sales tax we have in Washington. She is 85. This website is soooooo … elitist.

      • Washington doesn’t add sales tax to groceries. Seems like she is wasting money by driving all the way to Idaho. Or maybe you aren’t really a Washingtonian.

  3. I met a woman here in Bend yesterday. A nurse who, along with her husband, lived in Meridian, Idaho (suburb of Boise). Her neighbors on either side (and Meridian, BTW, is a very nice suburb) flew both Confederate and FYB flags. Her husband is a physicians assistant, both worked at the hospital that Ammon Bundy and his followers assaulted and attempted to remove a young child who was malnourished by his parents and removed from the home for missing a Children’s Protective Service mandated doctor’s appointment (let that just sink in for a moment. Ammon Bundy, candidate for Idaho governor, calls the parents who intentionally starve a child his friends). Long and short of it, this woman, born and raised in Idaho, felt she had to move. 5 kids, a whole house, moved to Bend in order to feel safe. She said the Ring on her front door recorded a realtor and client berating her house because she had a “Hate has not place here” poster in her window. Another potential buyer sent her a letter saying the house lacked sufficient Christian mementoes. And wait for it, she said there is almost a 100% chance Bundy will be elected governor. As someone who followed him and his family since Malheur I can guarantee you if he is elected, he will make a run at taking over all federal lands in Idaho. I am an avid fly angler, love the St. Joe, Kelly Creek, Silver Creek, The Lost, The Big Wood, the Snake, Lochsa. But I made a decision this year to not make my annual trips to any of those places. I have friends, like many of us, with places in Ketchum, Driggs, and CDL, all of them report how uncomfortable to scared they feel, now. It is truly heartbreaking for a state that gave us Frank Church.

  4. Add in Idaho’s wolf slaughter policy and that’s why I haven’t visited in a decade. I used to camp (and occasionally raft the gentler parts) along the Lochsa annually; visit the many charms of Wallace; and explore the area around Lake Coeur D’Alene often. But too many times, Idaho’s toxic wingnuts would harass me over a bumper sticker, including running me off the road.

    We need to treat states like this with the same economic punishment we give evil empires.

  5. I made the same decision that Carol describes here, only it was some time ago. In recent years the legislation and attitudes have only grown more repugnant. I belong to an organization that had planned to have its regional conference in Coeur D’Alene. Fortunately it was cancelled due to Covid concerns. I have requested that my organization not consider future conventions in that state. That is what I would urge all of you who don’t want to support a state with such ultra conservative laws. Lobby the various organizations where you have memberships to not consider Idaho as a state to receive a regional or national conference. It might not make a big difference but it may influence some state legislators when they realize that their state has become a pariah in the West.

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