Tim Grieve had an interesting column in Salon about “The reddest place in America,” Madison County, Idaho, home of BYU-Idaho. Some of the quotes from members of the faculty at BYU-Idaho caused my jaw to drop. For example:
As BYU-I English professor Dawn Anderson tells me, it’s important to understand that most voters in Madison County are Mormons, and that “everything of a political nature” has to be understood in that context.
“The climate surrounding faithful membership in this organization is not always conducive to challenging authority,” she says. “People here are reluctant to openly criticize the president and his administration, even if they privately disapprove of his job.” And many of them don’t disapprove, even privately. “After 20 years of teaching Mormon students, I’ve learned that the majority of them have little knowledge of issues outside the Republican platform. They only know that Democrats are lesbian baby-killers.”
Those critics of academia who believe all college professors are liberals should listen to Rick Davis who is (ironically) BYU-Idaho professor of Humanities.
One of Anderson’s BYU-I colleagues, a conservative professor of humanities named Rick Davis, offers a different sort of testament to the appeal of the area and the politics of its residents. Davis has lived in a lot of different places, he says, and he knows that people are different all over. Even Mormons are different. Davis contrasts his neighbors with Massachusetts Gov. and potential GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney is a “Boston Mormon,” notes Davis, not to be confused with “Rexburg Mormons,” who, he says, are “so red that you just bleed.”
Davis is definitely a Rexburg Mormon. I ask him about his thoughts on George W. Bush, and he launches into an explanation about how much worse off we’d all be if Al Gore had moved into the White House six years ago. “Oh, heaven help us,” he says. “No leadership, zero, which is the way Clinton was, too.” Clinton got away with a lot because the press is so liberal, Davis insists; Bush is “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t” because people just don’t understand that we could all be at the mercy of nuclear-armed terrorists if the United States doesn’t prevail in Iraq.
People in Madison County? They get it, Davis says. He’s been around, after all, and he’s come to understand that “anything that’s cosmopolitan is liberal, and anything that’s small is conservative.” But why is Madison County so overwhelmingly conservative? “There’s more Mormons here, and they’re better educated,” he says. “We have a very high education level in this town, a very high income level in this town. Now, that equates with being conservatives. We’re fiscally aware of where the money comes from, and that it doesn’t grow on the great tree in Washington. We don’t have any welfare state in this area at all. We don’t have blacks in this area to speak of. We’ve had them, and they’ve come and gone. Not to say they were driven out; they’ve just felt uncomfortable because there aren’t enough of them — like you and me moving to Montgomery, Alabama.“
I wonder why he talks about welfare and then immediately mentions blacks? I guess blacks are all on welfare, aren’t they? “Blacks weren’t driven out, they just felt uncomfortable…” This is the language of covert racism that so frequently infects small insulated communities like Rexburg. Of course, as Grieve points out, Davis is wrong about Rexburg Mormons in terms of both education and income.
Davis may overestimate Madison County’s standing on the income and education fronts. According to 2003 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the county’s median income is substantially lower than the median for Idaho or for the nation as a whole. Its educational accomplishments are pretty average: 24.4 percent of the county’s adult residents have at least a bachelor’s degree — a number that’s exactly equal to the national one. As for Madison County’s racial breakdown, Davis is pretty much spot-on.
Grieve concludes his article by noting that, even though the citizens of Madison county are content to keep their blinders on and obey authority, Republican support in the rest of the state is starting to show signs of weakness. He mentions the tight race between Grant and Sali as well as Mike Simpson’s hypocrisy in supporting Sali, who he once threatened to throw out of a window.
All in all, a thought provoking article well worth reading.