Dear Stacey Abrams, I Can Explain

I am about to register as a Republican. It’s not what you think

Photo by mark tulin on Unsplash

Ms. Abrams, you are one of my heroes.

If the world were a degree more rational or just, you would be governor of Georgia right now. The 2018 gubernatorial election in your state was famously stinky. Your opponent Brian Kemp was the Secretary of State overseeing the election, who during his tenure canceled a record number of voter registrations, 1.4 million in all — including a half-million purged in one night in July 2017, eight months after declaring his candidacy for governor. He also closed 214 polling places, the majority of them in Black neighborhoods, shortly before the election.

And you lost by 55,000 votes: 1.38% of the four million cast. Your response to this? You launched Fair Fight, an organization that, along with others such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Black Votes Matter, registered over 800,000 new voters. Largely because of you, Georgia transformed into a swing state that went, albeit narrowly, for Biden in 2020

And among your blizzard of accomplishments, you are a prolific novelist. I’d like to say I want to be you when I grow up, but I can’t imagine having that much energy.

You are one of the most influential progressive women in America, and probably in the world. My husband and I send regular donations to Fair Fight — not a lot, but what we can. 

I’ve been a registered Democrat for my entire adult life.

I never thought I’d see the day when I’d switch teams, especially not now when the Republican party seems seized with a fervid, collective disregard for facts or fairness. But here’s the thing: I’ve recently moved back to Idaho.

Idaho is a state that is redder than scarlet, especially once you stray outside the surprisingly blue boundaries of Boise, where we live. This is the second time we have lived here. Early on in our first tour, we learned that Idaho is full of warm, friendly folks with whom it is best to avoid any whiff of a mention of politics. At least until they let slip their leanings, which they will do once they suspect they are in the presence of someone like-minded. 

The first time we lived here, I remained a loud, proud Dem, regularly voting for our Democratic state house members and whatever bluecoats ran against our entrenched congressional representatives. I was part of a deliriously happy contingent of Idahoans who celebrated Obama’s victories. 

But part of my non-profit job back then entailed liaising with state legislators. I learned a few things. One, that the Republicans in the statehouse treated Democrats with dismissive tolerance. The Dems, so few in number, were tokens providing a faint nod to bipartisanship. They were certainly no threat to the R’s, who were at the time either being swept up in the Tea Party or under threat of being primaried by one of its adherents. In the six years of our first term of residence here, we watched the mood of the state GOP skid past conservatism, leapfrog over libertarianism, and wind up somewhere between far-right and bat poop. 

At the time, one of my adult sons lived in Arizona. We enjoyed competing over whose state had the most nut bucket politics.

So why am I going to the dark side now?

I am not, I assure you, bowing to pressure. As I said, we live in an area of Boise that is purplish-blue. Our neighborhood is full of yard signs proclaiming that science is real, Black lives matter, and love is love. So I’m not turning red out of a need for approval.

My reasons boil down to two factors. One is Janice McGeachin. The other one is Texas.

Janice McGeachin, you no doubt know, is the Idaho lieutenant governor, who came to national attention last May when, the moment Governor Brad Little (a Republican, need I mention) was out of the state, issued an executive order banning mask mandates. To be clear, Gov. Little had not issued a statewide mandate, espousing a conservative preference for local control that allowed school districts and municipalities to decide what was best. Not a perspective I agree with, but certainly not as draconian as McGeachin suddenly throwing the state, especially schools, into a bewildering and expensive period of chaos until the governor returned and immediately rescinded her order.

In my aforementioned past job, Janice McGeachin was a state legislator from Idaho Falls who served on the committee that directly affected the work of my organization and controlled a chunk of its funding. I had a number of meetings with her, both individually and at the committee level. Let’s just say I found her positions to be on the shrill side of wacky back then, and they have only hardened in the meantime.

Her recent newsletter to constituents claimed that Idaho residents “may be significantly worse off health-wise if they get vaccinated.” Idaho news station KTVB-7 reports:

The newsletter edition, dated Aug. 27 and disseminated on an official Idaho government website, complete with the state seal, falsely claimed that 69% of vaccinated people died within 28 days of receiving a positive COVID-19 test.

Her other positions are equally untethered from reality. According to IdahoEdNews.org, her hand-selected education task force purports that, “Idaho schools have a pervasive leftist indoctrination problem” and recommends prohibiting federal funds to promote the teaching of critical race theory — or really, anything that implies America is “inherently racist.” 

COVID cases are spiking in Idaho, so much so that Gov. Little is deploying National Guard troops to short-staffed health care facilities. On Aug. 31, the governor asked Idahoans to get the vaccine, calling it “our ticket out of the pandemic.” Minutes later, McGeachin called his request “shameful.”

Janice McGeachin is running for governor in 2022

The thought makes me shiver, but there it is. As of 2011, Idaho primary elections allow voters to only vote for candidates from their party. So as a Democrat, I could only vote for a Dem hopeful, who has as much chance as a one-legged duckling in the middle of a coyote pack. Brad Little has yet to announce his 2022 candidacy, but it’s expected that he will. And while Gov. Little and I see eye to eye on next to nothing, he has not abandoned sanity.

So if I’m a registered R by the time of the primary, I can vote against McGeachin. I’ve been thinking about this since we returned in late June. The thought of signing onto the Republican rolls makes me want to take a shower — not only because I disagree with every single thing the party currently stands for, but because I consider myself an honest and straightforward person who stands behind her affiliations. Plus, I hate the thought of tipping the demographics of my state legislative district one data point toward the red. And heck, I’m just one vote. Is that really worth besmirching my political integrity?

But now, Texas

When Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law — which, as I don’t have to tell you, makes Texas the most restrictive state in the nation for those who try to access abortion services — I was dismayed but not surprised. I was surprised, and aghast, last Wednesday by the Supreme Court’s five-to-four ruling that there was no reason to block the law. 

Not only does it fly in the face of what is still a woman’s constitutional right to the procedure, SB8 creates a Handmaid’s Tale environment of vigilante justice, in which anybody, anywhere, can sue anyone who even appears to help a pregnant person access abortion after six weeks of gestation. That includes the clinic, the doctor, and the Uber driver who provides transportation. Plaintiffs can recover legal fees, and if they win they get $10,000. Defendants, on the other hand, are unable to recover legal fees, even if they win. 

There could be multiple defendants in any one such lawsuit — the ones noted above, or a friend, family member, spouse, or clergy member. If the plaintiff wins, all of the defendants could be on the hook for $10K. Each. What a payoff for a newly created species of bounty hunter, who risks little in the process.

I have no doubt that there are those in Idaho, Janice McGeachin almost certainly among them, who would love to see such a law on the books here in Idaho. If there is anything legal that I have the power to do to prevent that from happening, I feel compelled to do it.

Yes, I’m squeamish about joining the political party whose actions over the past five years have plumbed new depths of degradation. But in the current climate, my sensitivities are nowhere near as important as using my one vote in the most powerful way I can. And for the 2022 primaries, if that means putting on the elephant pin, I’m doing it.

Ms. Abrams, I hope you’ll excuse and understand my defection. I’ll gleefully cross party lines to vote for the Dems in the general election, and I’ll change my registration back to blue as soon as it makes strategic sense.

Until then, please accept this apology and the continuing admiration and support of this nose-holding, soon-to-be RINO.

8 Comments

  1. Good for you, Jan. I applaud your reasoning and think you are entirely justified in switching your party affiliation. I did the same thing (sort of) in the 1980s in my uber-red county.

  2. OMG Jan. The idea makes my skin crawl. I pray I’m not forced to do the same here. Let’s see what the recall election (now theres a complete waste of taxpayer money) brings. We in CA might be diving into Republican insanity if the “favorite” republican replacement gets into office. I look forward to your post switch post! Do they give away blenders or anything?

    • Ha! They’re more likely to apply an ideological test to see if I’m worthy. Yep, the CA recall is truly worrisome. If the complacent Dem voters don’t get off their duffs and actually vote, things are going to get very weird very fast in the Golden State. I’ll let you know what it’s like from the other side of the divide 🙂

  3. Well, the system is idiotic. Why do you have to vote for a person within the party you belong to? Here in Denmark you can vote for whomever, within whatever party, and we have 8 parties, sometimes more. So! We vote for the PERSON. Makes for more complexity and flexibility.

    • Don’t even get me started on the idiocy of our current electoral system! Some states (like CA) have open primaries, but in Idaho and many others you can only vote within your party for primary elections (general elections are free game but you still declare your party when you show up to vote — WHY??). And then there’s our Electoral College, which is another topic you don’t want me to start on . . . Say hi to Denmark! 🙂

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