I was reading about the lineup of candidates running for president in 2020. The Vanity Fair article said that though Beto O’Rourke lived for a time in New York City, he would always be a Texan. I don’t know what that means. Did he “howdy” his way into performances at the Met? Did he walk the streets of Broadway wearing snakeskin boots and a rodeo belt buckle? When Donald Trump first ran for office in 2016 comedian Rosie O’Donnell commented on Trump’s combative style: “He’s from Queen’s. What do you expect?” Apparently, people from the New York borough of Queens like to get into fights.
If an Idahoan ran for president, would it be apparent he’s from Idaho? How would an Idahoan be viewed in the political spotlight?
George Hansen became the unfortunate political face of Idaho for a brief time back in 1979. The country of Iran had just become our enemy and took several Americans working there, hostage. Into this international fray steps Hansen, one of two representatives from Idaho to congress. Hansen said he went to Iran to solve the hostage crisis. I remember seeing news footage of Hansen, a big, beefy man in a dark blue suit and tie, incongruously towering over crowds of angry Persians. The ABC news anchor voiced over this televised footage commenting that Hansen was acting as a lone wolf in Iran and did not have state department support or approval. The clear implication: Idaho Representative George Hansen thought he knew more than the rest of the federal government about how to resolve an international problem.
“No!” I shouted at the television (I was a young woman then and more prone to yell or throw things at the TV). Hansen did not represent me and other Idahoans I knew. Maybe he was a caricature of something Idahoan, people who like to think for themselves and act independently, but it was a cartoon caricature.
If I were to choose a figure in Idaho history to nominate as a representative Idahoan, I’d probably nominate Grace Jordan.
Jordan gained the national spotlight briefly as the wife of former Governor and Senator, Len Jordan. She’s remembered more today for her classic autobiography of homesteading a run-down sheep ranch in Hell’s Canyon during the Great Depression. In that book, Home Below Hell’s Canyon, she chronicles canning peaches, making soap, and teaching her children to read and write. What stands out in her story is her good cheer, stamina, and courage through a difficult time. And though Jordan supported her husband’s political ambitions, she also managed to carve out her own career as a writer and author.
Idaho has changed greatly since George Hansen and Grace Jordan. We now have a much broader demographic including refugees from other countries, transplanted Californians, and an expanding Mexican-American population. I’d be hard-pressed to define a specific kind of Idaho character today. The old slogan about our state: “Idaho is what America was,” is less relevant. Idaho is slowly becoming America: a mishmash of many different cultures, each making their own rich and distinctive contribution. And that’s a good thing.