[Vision2020] VanderSloot's legacy-making moment awaits him

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Sat Jan 10 07:55:07 PST 2015

Courtesy of today's (January 10, 2015) Lewiston Tribune.

VanderSloot's legacy-making moment awaits him
Marty Trillhaase
Judging from what Idaho Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter and legislative leaders have said, sometime this spring advocates of human rights for all will finally get to the bottom rung on the political ladder.
Instead of being rejected out of hand as has been the case for almost a decade, their bill adding the words "sexual orientation and gender identity" to a state law banning discrimination on the job, in housing, in education and public accommodations will be formally introduced and heard before a legislative committee.
Then it will die.
Either it will fail on a committee vote.
Or someone will come up with a poison pill. One obvious version would permit people to continue legally mistreating gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people on the basis of a "sincerely held religious belief."
You even could see a scenario where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is outlawed, but gender identity is left unaddressed.
Human rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Second-class status for transgender people.
And an unacceptable bargain for the alliance that has persevered through the years just to be acknowledged by their elected representatives.
So expect another year of delay - or two or three - while more Idaho cities join the ranks of Lewiston, Moscow, Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Boise, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Ketchum, Victor and, most recently, Driggs in passing their own ordinances safeguarding human dignity. But equal rights are inherently unequal when they exist in such a checkerboard fashion.
Unless one man seated in the Capitol auditorium during the committee hearing steps up, approaches the lectern and simply says: "Add the words. Without delay."
That man would be Frank VanderSloot.
The chairman and chief executive officer of Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca, VanderSloot has succeeded the late J.R. Simplot as Idaho's wealthiest citizen. Some put his net worth at $1.5 billion.
Unlike Simplot, he's not been shy about applying that wealth toward political ends.
That includes defeating judges and replacing them with someone more to his liking.
Or pushing campaign finance laws to the limit to back his candidate for attorney general.
Or providing extra cash for GOP causes such as the defense of former state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's public education overhaul during the 2012 referendum campaign.
VanderSloot is plugged into the national Republican Party. He contributed and raised huge sums for Mitt Romney's presidential bid. And his corporate lieutenant, Damond Watkins, serves on the Republican National Committee.
That's why Idaho political historian Randy Stapilus has named VanderSloot the state's fifth most influential individual - and his highest-ranked private citizen.
Columnist Chris Carlson says that's underestimating VanderSloot's clout. Carlson has dubbed VanderSloot Idaho's "shadow shogun."
All that corporate, political and financial might comes with this history: VanderSloot has been a cultural warrior. In the late 1990s, he responded to a public television program addressing the needs of children of gay parents with billboards asking: "Should public television promote the homosexual lifestyle to your children? Think about it!"
In 2008, VanderSloot's wife Belinda contributed $100,000 toward passage of California's Proposition 8, which sought to block same-sex marriage.
But as his hometown newspaper, the Idaho Falls Post Register, noted two years ago, VanderSloot has been "deeply wounded" by depictions of him as anti-gay.
If that's so, then here is the time for VanderSloot to stand behind justice for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Here is the time for him to remind Idahoans how their own values and views - including those of VanderSloot's fellow Mormons - have evolved. Says Utah Pollster Dan Jones & Associates, 64 percent of "very active" Idaho Mormons would support him.
Here is the time for VanderSloot to provide pragmatic, reasonable Republicans - such as Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls - political cover from any GOP right wing insurrection.
Here is VanderSloot's once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a powerful force for good in his native state. This can become his legacy.
No one else can take his place.


Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares" (the most fun you can have with your pants on)
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho
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