At first blush, developments in Idaho state government may seem entirely uninteresting: policymakers are struggling to deal with enforcement of the child-support system. But the great part of the story is the amazing conspiracy theory that’s driving the problem.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called a special session of the Legislature [last week], his first in his three terms as governor, ordering lawmakers back to Boise on May 18 to address a crisis in the state’s child support enforcement system.“It’s the deadbeat parent that we’re after here, and it’s our responsibility to hold them responsible,” Otter declared.
As the Spokesman-Review article explained, the Republican-run state House was supposed to bring the state’s child-support enforcement system in line with federal regulations, so that Idaho can receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal resources.
But GOP lawmakers balked, not because they oppose enforcing child-support laws, but because of a ridiculous conspiracy. The Idaho Statesman highlighted “a bizarre episode of toxic, conspiratorial anti-federalist/anti-United Nations/anti-religious fear-mongering,” which “leaked like battery acid on a perfectly legitimate program.”
The editorial board of the New York Times summarized the problem from a national perspective:
The European Union and more than 30 other nations have ratified a long sought treaty to make it easier to track delinquent parents who flee across foreign borders to duck their child support obligations. Until this month, the treaty, which was painstakingly negotiated at The Hague to improve the lot of needy, abandoned families, had been progressing toward acceptance in the United States. Nineteen states found no problem in signing on.Then it was Idaho’s turn. The Republican-controlled state Senate approved the treaty unanimously. Yet a House committee impulsively refused to send it along for full floor debate in a 9-to-8 vote that featured xenophobic fantasies about Idaho citizens being ordered about by foreign courts and foreign law. Right-wing alarmists raised fears that the good people of Idaho could suddenly find themselves subject to Shariah, the Islamic legal code.
The fears are absurd, but more important to Idaho, the fears also derailed an important proposal that the state government needs to receive federal funds.
Just so we’re clear, Idaho’s Republican governor, Butch Otter, has no use for the unhinged conspiracy theory. It’s why he called the legislature into special session to lean on his fellow Republicans to act responsibly.
That session will begin in two weeks and Otter is cautiously optimistic. But in the meantime, note that this coincides with ridiculous panic about the “Jade Helm 15” in Texas and other Southwestern states.
Fringe nonsense starts at the grassroots level, it spreads through right-wing media, and before long, actual elected policymakers are taking steps that treat conspiracy theories as real threats.
It’s no way for adult policymakers in a global superpower to conduct their official affairs.