Before the Tea Party was a glimmer in Glenn Beck’s eye – before the rallies, the bus tours and the tricorne hats – Idaho had a politician named Pro-Life.
Born Marvin Richardson in Wyoming ( he will tell you that he was “fertilized” into personhood on Nov. 1, 1940,) the independent gubernatorial candidate legally changed his name when he first ran for public office, appearing on the ballot as “Pro-Life (a person formerly known as Marvin Richardson).” As the nomenclature was getting a bit confusing, the Secretary of State sought to explain that Pro-Life was indeed “a person” and not a policy, position or referendum on Roe vs. Wade.
Mr. Life, as some debate moderators have clumsily called him, is a perennial candidate, a blooming quadrennial reminder of what true belief really looks like. This organic strawberry farmer and father of 15 is an unfailing advocate for the defenseless, a moral vegetarian who shuns all killing. On the issue of managing Idaho’s wolves, he departed from the conservative mainstream that wants the varmints dead. “If the wolves start eating children, then I would do something about it,” he said.
As a former ticket topper for the Constitution Party, his platform goes beyond abortion. Pro-Life (or Pro-Vida, as his wife likes to call him) is in many ways a proto-Tea-Partier; he was calling for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education long before it was fashionable.
“The largest religious denomination in Idaho is in the church of public education,” he said in the five-way gubernatorial debate last week that, largely by his own doing, was a circus. “We all worship public education, but it’s a Communist doctrine,” he said.
Pro-Life (or Pro-Vida, as his wife likes to call him) is in many ways a proto-Tea-Partier; he was calling for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education long before it was fashionable.
“We are Democratic Socialists. We are Communists,” Pro-Life said. “If we’re going to get out of this mess, we need to get out of public education.” In his previous campaigns for governor (2006) and senate (2008), he made identical statements. But this year, in front of a crowd stacked with sticker-clad supporters of incumbent Republican governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, few laughed off his assertions.
Libertarian candidate Ted Dunlap provided some harmony. Dunlap called public schooling an ominous example of “central planning” and throughout the debate, the two long-shots stole time from Otter and his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred. Neither Dunlap or Pro-Life stands a chance of winning here, but in light of Sharron Angle and Joe Miller, they no longer seem like loony tokens of some far-out constitutionalist cult.
And that begs the question: What happens if Angle, Miller, O’Donnell, et al win? Do they ride into Washington to answer Pro-Life’s call and abolish the Department of Education?
According to David Adler, founding director of the McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho, their case is “very flimsy.” While it’s true that “there is nothing in the U.S. constitution to indicate that the federal government has a role to play in education,” congress is nevertheless clearly granted the power to “lay and collect taxes” to provide for the “general welfare.”
Of course the professor is right: It’s in there, right before the part that says congress can “borrow money on the credit of the United States.” The Idaho constitution goes one step further on education, specifically mandating a “thorough system of public, free common schools.” Pro-Life is aware of this obstacle, but believes the federal constitution trumps Idaho’s hand-me-down version.
Such strict constitutionalist arguments, Adler said, are based on an absurdist, “gotcha literalism.”
“If they do not find a power literally or specifically enumerated in the constitution, they argue the government doesn't have the power.” The problem with this concept is pretty simple—imagine how long a document would have to be to spell out every single government power, alternate-side-of-the-street-parking and fire hydrant paint colors included.
Pro-Life, while honest in his pursuit of a “politics guided by conscience” and faith, is obviously conflicted about how to merge his personal and constitutional beliefs. On one hand he “would outlaw homosexuality, adultery and fornication,” but in the next breath, he said, “government should not be in the marriage business.”
Adler said these are typical Tea Party conflations.
“Their fundamental confusion is their dislike for certain policies and their aim to criticize those as unconstitutional because they don't like them,” he said.
To Pro-Life, Adler’s scholarly analysis represents the usual obfuscation of mainstream politics. He called Governor Otter a “salesman for the government,” a product no decent Idahoan would ever buy.
Ultimately, Pro-Life doesn’t consider himself a viable solution to most problems. He’s in this game for one reason, to save the unborn. To that end, he will never relent.
“I will run in every election until I die.” And as he told the Boise Weekly in 2008, “If I win, I'll ask for a recount.”