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Some senators cast doubt on need for resolution denouncing racism after N. Idaho harassment report

Idaho Sen. Phil Hart, R-Kellogg, at the State Capitol building
Photo by Otto Kitsinger
Idaho Sen. Phil Hart (R, Kellogg) at the State Capitol building

Resolution follows report from NCAA women’s basketball team of racist harassment in Coeur d’Alene that’s drawn national outcry

After national outcry following the report of a racist harassment incident in North Idaho, several Idaho senators on Thursday questioned the need for a resolution denouncing racism.

The Idaho Senate adopted the resolution on a 33-1 vote.

The resolution is in response to an incident in Coeur d’Alene where people in trucks reportedly revved their engines while yelling the N-wordat a group of University of Utah’s women’s basketball players. That incident was reported to police, who say they have a video related to the incident, the Spokesman-Review reported.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 135 “denounces acts of racism and commits to eradicating the conditions that allow racial animus and undue prejudice to persist in Idaho.”

Only Sen. Phil Hart, R-Kellogg, voted against the resolution.

He said he wasn’t “aware of the situation.” And he questioned the urgency for the resolution, which was brought for a vote Thursday under suspension of the Senate’s rules, a day ahead of when legislative leaders have said they hope to adjourn the legislative session.

“I think it’s completely inappropriate that we suspend rules and vote on something as sensitive as this without us knowing what was going on,” Hart said.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, who sponsored the resolution, said the urgency is due to the national attention the incident has received.

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

Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, initially said she wasn’t familiar with the incident, questioned whether it really happened and later said in her floor debate she wished the resolution went further.

“I don’t think it goes far enough. I think it should be covering everybody. … If we could take an incident that maybe occurred — we don’t know for sure, but maybe occurred, and make that carte blanche to everyone. I’m not — I wonder why we’re not doing that,” Nichols said.

“My concern is just that we’re making this very specific to something that I’m not really familiar about. I can’t really find a lot of information about what has transpired, and if this is the best way to go about talking about this,” Nichols said.

Idaho Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, called for a rarely used Senate procedure, called a “Call of the Senate.” The move would have required the Senate sergeant at arms to “find and present to the Senate” two senators who were absent – Hart and Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa. The Senate rescinded the request after Hart and Lenney were brought into the chamber.

Sen. Treg Bernt, R-Meridian, was the only Idaho senator who had an excused absence for the final vote.

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Viola, said he wanted to make clear that he didn’t want his vote in favor of the resolution “is in no way an apology on my own behalf, or on behalf of the great state of Idaho.”

“We live in the greatest state in this nation, in my humble opinion. And we have the finest people on the face of the earth. The people who should be apologizing are the people who committed the act,” Foreman said.

The resolution follows statements from Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke denouncing racism. But some far-right Idaho public officials have cast doubt on the reports of racial harassment, according to the Idaho Statesman.

“There is no place for racism, hate or bigotry in the great State of Idaho. We condemn bullies who seek to harass and silence others,” Little wrote, a day after signing a ban on diversity statements across state government. “I will continue the tradition of past Idaho governors in supporting our local leaders in their efforts to eradicate hate and bigotry from our communities.”

[Editor's Note: Sen. Hart on Friday morning formally protested the way the resolution was presented on the Senate floor on Thursday. He said he is a former University of Utah athlete, in addition to being a north Idaho citizen and legislator.

"So which knee jerk reaction do I go with? I contend that I go with neither one. What I go with are the facts and there was not time to study the facts (about the event in Coeur d'Alene)."]

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.