For a telling and insightful moment, Paulette Jordan’s rhetoric momentarily detoured from her typical vague and soaring fare to an off-putting exclusionary, if not racist, slip. Last week on Nate Shelman’s radio show on KBOI in Boise, the Democrat gubernatorial nominee asserted that she was the “only real Idahoan” and the “only real American” in the state’s most visible race.
That was a new one to me. I have known Brad Little for some time. His history is well-known. He was born in Emmett into a successful ranching family, and carried on the tradition. I’d have to ask him, but I’m guessing of all the several political opponents Little has faced over the years, not one — until now — has ever accused the lifelong Idahoan of not being an Idahoan. Even with a 26-year head start in the Gem State, Little doesn’t meet the 39-year-old candidate’s rigorous requirements to be one of “us.”
Shelman pressed Jordan for clarification, asking “You said ‘real Idahoan’. Do you separate yourself from other Idahoans that were born here?” Citing her status as the only indigenous person running, Jordan’s effort to elevate her ethnic heritage to a place of supremacy over her opponent — and by extension the 98.5 percent of Idaho residents who are not Native American — may placate select groups steeped in the ideology of identity politics, but my inner Karl Rove says it may not be a winning statewide campaign strategy.
That messaging mis-step might be forgiven if couched in the understandable pride of a rich heritage articulated by a less experienced candidate. But it was just one of a number of brush fires Jordan has largely ignited on her own, and is now trying to extinguish in an effort to salvage a campaign that by most in-state observers appears to be an undisciplined hot mess of disorganization.
At a recent City Club appearance in Idaho Falls, Jordan was asked about the recent high-profile turnover in her campaign after her top three staff members, gagged by a forced nondisclosure agreement, all departed the campaign on the same day. While Jordan insisted the change was part of a planned change in leadership, it was clear in leaked resignation letters and statements that, for at least two of the three, their brief unpleasant stints on the Jordan campaign may just be discreetly omitted from future resumes.
During the same luncheon, Jordan verbally attacked Idaho Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell and the media in general for reporting on the suspect connection between a top member of Jordan’s campaign and the creation of the Strength and Progress super PAC. Jordan characterized Sewell’s reporting as “lies,” then failed to offer any specific factual errors, distortions, or misleading details.
Furthermore, Jordan speaks of her own candidacy as “unprecedented” and a worldwide movement. A recent official campaign video suggested that she was sent by God to those who are inclined to support her. Already someone is creating a documentary called “Paulette” and she has been busy raising money with Hollywood celebrities.
I am not convinced Paulette Jordan wants to be governor of Idaho, as much as she’s leveraging her campaign into a place on the national stage. Why would she want to be Idahoans governor when she doesn’t even think the vast majority of us are Idahoans?
Whatever the case, the shine is wearing off.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 6:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.