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The Intersection Of Politics And The Pandemic, In Idaho And The Nation

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As the nation approaches the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and states across the U.S. — including Idaho — anticipate the 2021 legislative season, the pandemic is certain to intersect with politics through much of the year ahead.Boise State University Associate Professor Dr. Jaclyn Kettler visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about how the pandemic will cast a long, wide shadow on Capitol Hill and the Idaho Statehouse.

“I think there's interest in helping exert more legislative influence and inclusion in these conversations and decisions, including some of these emergency powers.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News.Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Well, the overwhelming majority of headlines in 2020 concerned COVID-19 or politics; and as we make our way into 2021, we will undoubtedly see those elements intersect. Dr. Jaclyn Kettler is here - scholar and assistant professor at Boise State University. And so much of her scholarship concerns American government and state politics. Dr. Kettler, good morning and Happy New Year.

DR. JACLYN KETTLER: Happy New Year.

PRENTICE: So, let's talk about what will happen in the next couple of weeks: a bit of history  on Wednesday, January 20th, when we will see the inauguration of Joe Biden. That ceremony will certainly be very different because of the pandemic. But more importantly, his road to victory pretty much went through the minefield of the pandemic and probably led to his election.

KETTLER: Well, yeah. I mean, we think back during the Democratic presidential primary, race was still happening, when we started to really see the effects of COVID-19. And Biden was already kind of on the way to winning the Democratic nomination. But we start to see some of those later primaries be converted to full mail-in voting or delayed. And so, he captured that nomination in kind of an interesting time period. And then, of course, there are so many questions about how COVID-19 would affect the general election in terms of how to carry it out and so much more mail-in voting than states dealing with how to handle more mail-in ballots. So, it was a really interesting presidential election compared to most years in terms of it happening during a pandemic.

PRENTICE: And will probably impact to some degree how we cast a ballot in 2021.

KETTLER: Yeah, I think one thing that's there's a lot of interest in whether more states will expand absentee or mail-in voting in terms of people seem to like it; it's convenient. It makes things more accessible. But there were concerns, right, in some states not being able to process the ballots quickly or those types of things. So, I do think how our election shift moving forward will be a really interesting question.

PRENTICE: Of a more immediate nature is a more local nature. And that is this coming Monday: the beginning of the 2021 Idaho legislature. COVID may not be the topic at hand in every debate, but I have to assume it will impact nearly everything at the state House.

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KETTLER: For sure. I mean, there are so many policy issues or questions involving the COVID-19 response, but also the effect of the pandemic in terms of economic issues and all those types of things, as well as, “How do you actually meet the legislature during a pandemic/” And we've seen some of the Democrats express concerns about meeting in person. Governor Little had expressed maybe there should be some delay or some virtual option. So, I think how they kind of handle meeting in person during an ongoing pandemic will be interesting to watch.

PRENTICE: I'm thinking of the committee hearings and necessity of transparency and public input. Are we talking about testimony via Zoom? Or are we going to have super spreader events in committee rooms? So that sounds as interesting as it is risky.

KETTLER: I think those are some of the key concerns. And we have seen in other states, state legislators get sick with COVID-19. We've seen a few state legislators die from COVID-19. And so, these are, you know, I think real questions and concerns as we move forward. Some states have expanded virtual testimony. So, I think that there are ways to kind of try to still allow for public engagement and with while also trying to perhaps reduce the number of people in a committee room.

PRENTICE: And we got a taste of what might happen during last summer's special session when some pandemic-driven debates ended in chaos. And we have to assume that Republican leadership might try to curb some of Governor Little's authority.

KETTLER: You know, there are always debates and questions, you know, and just conversations about legislative versus executive powers. And some of the legislative leaders in 2020 expressed concerns on being kind of left out of some of the decisions that were made with the executive branch or at the local level, local health, health district boards, those types of things. And so, I think there's interest in helping exert more legislative influence and an inclusion in these conversations and decisions, including some of these emergency powers.

PRENTICE: I'm always interested in what you're teaching in any given semester. What's on your plate this semester?

KETTLER: Well, one class I'm teaching is our American political institutions and behavior course, which we've. redesigned to really focus on political polarization.

PRENTICE: Oh, my goodness. You have my full attention. Oh, my gosh. Talk about timely and fluid.

KETTLER: We dove into, “What does it mean for us to be polarized? What's the effect of this on both citizens and also on our politics?” And so, while it can be sometimes, I think, a frustrating topic, such an important one to really understand US politics today,

PRENTICE: I'm always anxious to hear about your sense of engagement among students. Do you have a sense of their interest or engagement?

KETTLER: I think it's been quite high in the past year, but I think that's true in general. We've seen a lot more… when we saw high turnout in the Georgia Senate runoff. So, I think people are quite interested and engaged while and part of that may be probably driven by frustration as well. But I think engagement, political engagement has been quite high, which has resulted in some, at times, conflicts. But also it's good to see people concerned and engaged in their government.

PRENTICE: And it has never been more personal.

KETTLER: That's true.

PRENTICE: She is Dr. Jaclyn Kettler, assistant professor at Boise State University. Jaclyn, I look forward to many conversations in this New Year.

KETTLER: Thank you for having me.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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