Throughout the 2021 Idaho legislative session, a noticeable far-right presence within the state legislature made itself known to the citizens of Idaho.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s Education Task Force and her actions as acting governor, along with the passage of the anti-critical race theory bill HB 377, are just a few examples from a very eventful year for Idaho in the world of politics.
Amid these controversies and this rising far-right presence, the Idaho 97 Project was formed.
The Idaho 97 Project is a non-partisan political organization that formed in early 2021 to “support the democratic process in Idaho, counter disinformation and extremism through proactive, fact-based action and media messaging, and protect free expression and good governance for the public and public officials alike,” according to the group’s website.
The name was inspired by a group known as the “Three Percenters,” an anti-government militia group that attended several Central District Health (CDH) meetings during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the national Three Percenters dissolved in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the still-active Idaho branch has endorsed Lt. Gov. McGeachin in the 2022 Idaho gubernatorial election. To signify opposition to this group and others like it, the Idaho 97 Project then formed to combat the misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and related issues within the pandemic.
Mike Satz, founding executive director of the Idaho 97 Project, explained that Idaho can be a great place politically. However, the threat of extremism could jeopardize that. His hope is that his organization can be a check of this extremism in Idaho.
“[T]hings have really been changing, and the change is we’ve seen a lot of extremism really creeping into Idaho politics,” Satz said. “[T]he reason we’re here, the reason we really exist, is to bring balance back to this and to say ‘no’.”
Satz went on to explain that those within the political extreme are really just a vocal and confrontational minority that doesn’t focus on the real interests of Idaho.
Dr. Jaclyn Kettler, an associate professor of political science at Boise State, has spoken on the grassroots success of the organization within Idaho politics.
“[T]hey have been able to mobilize a sizable number of people to contact officials on several occasions,” Kettler wrote in an email. “This suggests they may be successfully building a fairly large grassroots network for political advocacy.”
Most recently, the Idaho 97 Project has been taking swings at the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), a far-right lobbying group and the Idaho 97 Project’s main legislative rival, on Twitter. With the 2022 legislative session underway, they have also begun working with the Take Back Idaho PAC, a group of former Republican state officials who also seek to battle extremism within their party.
Dani Alegria, a freshman pre-business major who was raised in Idaho, has observed the effects of political extremism in Idaho, especially regarding COVID-19.
“With mask culture and vaccine culture, for example, I’m pretty sure Idaho has one of the lowest vaccine rates in the country,” Alegria said.
According to an article by US News comparing the vaccination rates among the fifty states, Idaho currently ranks fourth in lowest partial vaccination rates, at 59.3%.
For Boise State students, the decisions made by the state legislature can directly affect their lives. This is currently being seen in legislative discussions over the university’s budget.
Dr. Kettler emphasized the importance of paying attention to state politics along with national politics.
“Subnational policies directly affect our daily lives, making it important to pay attention to state and local politics,” Kettler wrote. “For students interested in being involved in politics, grassroots organizations are one way to engage in politics and try to advocate for their preferred policies or political change.”
For more information on the Idaho 97 Project, visit https://www.theidaho97.org/.