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Idaho Senate denounces racism after caveated debate

Idaho Statehouse Dome
Samantha Wright
Boise State Public Radio
Idaho Statehouse Dome

Idaho senators ultimately voted to denounce racism after Republican leadership ordered the body’s sergeant-at-arms to round up two absent lawmakers – one of whom cast the lone no vote on the resolution.

About 10 minutes into the debate Thursday evening, Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise) authorized a rarely procedural move to return Sens. Phil Hart (R-Kellogg) and Brian Lenney (R-Nampa) to the floor and forbidding the rest of the body from leaving the Senate chambers.

Winder formally excused Sen. Treg Bernt (R-Meridian) as absent.

The resolution stems from allegations made by the University of Utah women’s basketball team, which stayed at a hotel in Coeur d’Alene recently while it played its early round matchups during the NCAA March Madness tournament in Spokane.

Head coach Lynne Roberts said the team had to switch hotels after experiencing “racial hate crimes” last week.

Police in Coeur d’Alene said a person in a truck, displaying a confederate flag,lobbed racial slurs at the team members as they walked to and from dinner at a local restaurant.

An investigation is ongoing.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee’s (R-Payette) resolution specifically cited the incident, noting Idaho’s history as the home of the neo-Nazi hate group, the Aryan Nations.

“…the Legislature hereby denounces acts of racism and commits to eradicating the conditions that allow racial animus and undue prejudice to persist in Idaho,” the resolution reads.

Hart said he hadn’t had enough time to consider the resolution and ultimately voted against it.

“What is the urgency of having this debated on the floor of the Senate the same day it was introduced?” he asked.

“I don’t know how much time it takes people to decide if you are against racism, racial slurs, racial intimidation and hatred,” Lee replied.

“It took me less than 30 seconds [to read the resolution],” said Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian).

“With this resolution, we have the ability to stand as the State of Idaho and say we don’t tolerate this kind of behavior, this kind of speech. This senator will proudly vote aye.”

Lenney, the second senator forced to be wrangled by Senate staffers, asked Lee if there’s been any evidence proving that the allegations happened.

“There was a police report, it was founded and I believe these women,” Lee said.

“I haven’t seen any actual evidence of this happening,” said Lenney. “If there was over 100 college kids walking around downtown Coeur d’Alene and this happened, you would think there’d be some cell phone video with social media, some pictures, something like that.”

Lenney ultimately voted in favor of the bill, as did Sen. Dan Foreman (R-Viola).

Foreman emphasized that it’s those who committed the acts who should apologize, though.

“I want to make it clear that my support is in no way an apology on my own behalf or on behalf of the great state of Idaho,” he said. “We have the finest people on the face of the earth.”

The debate over the resolution lasted more than half an hour, with Sen. Chris Trakel (R-Caldwell) closing the discussion, saying he hates racism while also urging caution.

“In the Marine Corps, we call it a knee-jerk reaction,” said Trakel. “If, and I’m not saying it is, if it comes out that this is a hoax, I find it really weird that we’re going to jump on something so quick before the police have even come out and said whether or not this has happened.”

The resolution now goes to the House for consideration.

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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