Idahoans, and perhaps north Idahoans in particular, have a long-standing love affair with the fatherly Dr. Ron Paul. So it was no surprise when 1,200 Ron Paul supporters gave up a drizzly Monday lunch hour to hear the Republican presidential candidate speak at a town hall event in the Bonner County Fairgrounds on March 5.
Judging from the parking lot alone, Paul may well be Bonner County’s pick for the Republican nomination. Legions of mud-flecked trucks—almost universally peppered with pro-Paul bumper stickers—crowded together in long lines, snaking onto the snowy fields surrounding the grounds. License plates hailed from Montana, Washington and Oregon. Inside the exhibition hall—which the weekend before hosted an annual gun and horn show—the crowd was packed to standing-room-only, including at least two school bus loads of teenagers.
Statewide, Ron Paul pulled 28 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential primary and won nearly 30 percent of the vote in Bonner County, where he was the only candidate on the ballot against John McCain.
Paul knows voters like those in Bonner County and played directly to the region’s long history of libertarianism. The stop in Sandpoint is one of four such “town halls” planned throughout the state on the eve of Super Tuesday caucuses. Paul will next appear in Moscow at the University of Idaho Kibbie Dome, followed by rallies in Idaho Falls and at the Nampa Civic Center on March 6.
“It makes me feel good in what some people might call a small town, but it’s a very important town when it comes to personal liberty,” Paul said in his introductory remarks. Cornel Rasor, chairman of the three-member Bonner County Board of Commissioners, introduced Paul and publicly endorsed the candidate in February, sending a five-page letter to state central committee members in which he praised the candidate’s consistency, constitutionalism and conservative credentials, noting that “because of his wide appeal amongst independent voters, Congressman Paul is likely the only Republican candidate that will be able to defeat Barack Obama.”
Well known regionally for his own staunch libertarian stance, Rasor has been praised by the Paul campaign for his institution of the controversial Bonner County Property Rights Council, along with efforts to support other communities in establishing similar bodies. The army surplus store that Rasor has managed for 31 years is a hub of pro-Paul activity, plastered with large campaign signs facing Sandpoint’s busy Fifth Avenue.
Calling Paul “our John Quincy Adams” and “our herald of liberty,” Rasor said Idahoans have good reason to support the candidate’s hard line on personal liberty.
“In Idaho, he’s the godfather of the state’s rights movement,” he said.
A wild ovation followed Paul’s appearance, wearing a maroon sweater, jeans and a checkered shirt. The address was standard Paul fare—beginning with a damnation of modern-day politicians and a body politic that has been “careless” in allowing the Constitution to be “undermined.”
“When the government is small, the people are big,” Paul said to shouts of “amen” and “darn straight.”
Like all Ron Paul speeches, the Sandpoint event was as much a lecture on history and economics as it was a campaign pitch. He hit all the usual targets: slashing spending both at home and abroad, returning to a gold-backed system of currency, abolition of the Federal Reserve, and the repeal of the 16th Amendment, which was ratified in 1913 and instituted the federal income tax.
“The government has to be restrained. The spending has to be restrained,” Paul said before working up to his vow that the 16th Amendment be stricken down by its 100th anniversary—or, as he put it, “when the true republic returns.” He also pledged to roll back some 40,000 laws that went on the books on Jan. 1.
“If it is to be that I’m your president, I’d like to see a year where we get rid of 40,000 laws,” he said, touching off a riot of applause, cheers and sign waving.
In a region that has long suffered in the wake of the near-demise of the timber industry, anti-government and anti-regulation feeling has always bubbled near the surface. Even now, land owners in Priest Lake are engaged in what libertarians see as a major battle against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The case of Mike and Chantell Sackett, who ran afoul of EPA wetlands protections when building their home, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in January and is awaiting decision.
North of Bonner County, in Boundary County, militia movements have been active for decades, and the area was home to the infamous Randy Weaver standoff in 1992. Indeed, Jeff Stankiewicz, who leads the North Idaho 21st Battalion of Light Foot in Bonners Ferry, was seen milling around Paul’s dais before and after his address.
Paul spoke to the community’s long-standing economic struggles as part of a downturn that has been affecting the nation for 14 years. His apocalyptic visions of the near future had the crowd howling in agreement.
“This whole system is going to self-destruct,” he said, adding that with a devalued dollar serving as the international reserve currency, the situation is worse than ever.
“We’re very close tipping over and that’s because the world is involved,” Paul said.
He directed some of his grimmest oratory at the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 31, 2011. The mere mention of the legislation drew boos from the audience and Paul railed against the measure, which includes a counter-terrorism section that Paul and others claim allows the president to authorize the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or support of terrorism.
“That cannot be a part of what the United States is about,” Paul said, adding that “the president can assassinate people.”
Along with dismantling a “deeply flawed” economic and political system that favors regulation and government involvement, Paul promised that should he go to the White House, personal liberty would be protected not only from Wall Street and unscrupulous banking forces, but against overzealous security measures like those contained in the USA Patriot Act (or the “Repealing the 14th Amendment Act,” as he called it).
“We’re talking about real liberty,” Paul concluded, “not this fake stuff.”