I received an email today from someone who is, “interested in potentially moving to rural Northern Idaho. However, I’ve heard conflicting descriptions of what the politics are like.”
I get a request something like this, maybe, once a year. I decided to make it a blog post so I don’t have to rewrite it every time.
It’s been several years since I actually lived there enough to consider it my actual residence but I do own property there, spend the weekend there about once a month, and I have many friends and relatives there. I still consider it “home” but that is more of an attitude and viewpoint thing rather than a physical sense. Also keep in mind that my experience is with mostly with North Central Idaho, some limited experience in Northern Idaho and does not apply to the state of Southern Idaho (there is a political, social, and geographical divide between the southern part of the state and the rest of the state).
The concern of my correspondent was:
…some people make it sound like if you let slip that you don’t hate Obama or whatever everyone will hate you. And I still have little experience with what the political landscape in the broader USA is actually like. It’s easy to dismiss my ultra-liberal family who see everything other than New York and San Francisco as a kind of a wasteland. Somebody who claims that “his clients would shoot him if he sold to someone who is OK with liberals” is rather scarier, even though I’m mostly interested in getting away from liberals.
Failure to hate Obama will cause everyone to hate you? I think is a totally unwarranted concern. While I think it would be possible to find a place where such people existed it would be very rare. I have progressive relatives there (and Dad was, for all intents and purposes, a pretty hard core socialist) who are annoying because they sometimes want “non-believers” to agree with them. The worst I have seen happen when someone expressed progressive beliefs is that people try to change the subject and, if that doesn’t work, they walk away from the conversation. Shoot someone for their political beliefs? No. They might offer to take them shooting or hunting or show them their stuffed elk head, knowing that it would tweak their progressive sensibilities, but there wouldn’t be any intent to injury anything more than their delicate psyche.
For the person that likes certain aspects of the progressive social culture but wants to escape the economic oppression you should consider Moscow Idaho. It is filled with “frustrated liberals”. It is a university town but they don’t have enough voting power in the state and have difficulty dominating at the county level. I lived in Moscow for many years and would sometimes attend “concerts in the park” and other cultural events and one of my favorite parts of it was seeing the “liberal tears”. They wanted those type of events to all be “free” so they would be “accessible to everyone”.
Even in a small logging/farming town like Orofino I see some of my old high school classmates whining on Facebook about how terrible the Republicans are and the worst that I can see happen to them is that no one seems to care what they think.
So, I would agree with the statement that, politically, it is a nice place for a “recovering liberal” who is tired of being crushed between San Francisco and LA.
The climate may be a different story. A lot of places, particularly the further north and the high elevation you go, will be cold in the winter. It can be brutally cold. On the farm a few miles and a couple thousand feet above Orofino during the winter of 1969/1970 it got down to -30 F for about a week with about six feet of snow in a single storm. The electricity and phones were out for a full week too. That was a record breaker and there hasn’t been a winter like that since. There was one winter, probably in the late 1990s, where it never got above 0 F for a month. That was rare too. But for someone from southern California that could be frighteningly extreme. If the cold weather isn’t something you want to experience then Lewiston may be better fit. It is considered “the banana belt” area of Idaho. It has the lowest elevation in the state and while the winters are usually pretty mild the summers can be brutally hot with temperatures frequently over 100 F. The humidity is fairly low but doesn’t really qualify as a “dry heat” like you get in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. But it is far less oppressive than the Midwest or the east coast humidity.
Amazon has changed things some in regards to access to goods but it still may be a cultural shock to people growing up in or near a city. Where I grew up they have to drive a considerable distance (and it took even longer before the roads were paved) to get to grocery, hardware, and clothing stores. It might be an hour or more to a town with a shopping mall. Even now you could live in a small town and will need to drive 40 miles before you can get service on your cell phone. High speed Internet, if you can get it, could be 8 Mbps down and 4 Mbps up.
The last thing of considerable note to tell people who are “interested in potentially moving to rural Northern Idaho” from, say California, is something that I found very confusing starting on my first day of college. I was at the University of Idaho (Moscow) and several students from California, New Jersey, and New York (mostly wildlife and forestry majors) asked, “What is there to do around here?” I didn’t really understand the question and when I asked for clarification they would explain, “What do you do for to ‘get out” in the evenings or weekends?” “Well”, I would explain, “On the weekend in the summer you might go fishing, camping, or maybe boating if you had a boat. In the fall some people go hunting. In the winter we didn’t go out much except to feed the cows or work in the shop. And in the evenings I generally watch TV or read a book.” This pretty much left them speechless and it wasn’t because I had answered their question question satisfactorily. After I graduated and moved to the Seattle area I finally understood what they were incapable of explaining to me. While I still don’t have the strong need for the sort of stimulation they were asking about I think I know what they meant. Sorry, in many parts of Idaho you will experience extreme deprivation if that is what you need to get by.
I love Idaho, I wish I could live there all the time but I’m sort of addicted to my well paying job in the big city and I only get to visit “home”. But it’s not going to be for everyone. The more rural you get the more self reliant you need to be in both physical and social domains. And even though you feel oppressed by a state like California, it may take some getting used to or may not even be for you.