Hi and welcome back! This past week, an Idaho House Republican, Charlie Shepherd (R-Pollock), offered Idahoans a few choice words about why he’d rejected federal education grants for early childhood education. And then later, he lied about what he’d said and why. Of course, the money’s still gone, and Shepherd’s doing his level best to eviscerate the states’ educational system in other places. Today, let me show you the latest skirmish in the right-wing Christian War on Women: Charlie Shepherd’s outrageous comments regarding an education bill he thought gave mothers way too many options in life.
Everyone, Meet Charlie Shepherd: Wow, This Guy.
Newbie Republican House Representative Charlie Shepherd is the son of a career politician, Paul Shepherd.
Mostly, Charlie Shepherd has done lumberyard work and coached high school sports. I suspect that he’s got connections in high places in that entire geographical area, as well. His bio mentions a “family sawmill.” In 2018, someone called Charlie Shepherd, Sr., who is apparently the “architect” of Salmon River’s athletics programs, got in a bad accident at that sawmill.
Other than his family connections, Charlie Shepherd has absolutely, positively nothing to recommend himself for office. He only briefly attended college. He’s never had any formal training or education that might prepare him for governing others. To me, he seems like a big blazing ball of compressed entitlement-mentality hot air, coupled with an utter ignorance of civics and a sneering hatred for human rights.
In his debates, he leaned very hard on his religiosity and specifically called himself “a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment,” noting that he is “an enhanced concealed/carry permit holder.” He’s keeping his actual church affiliation on the maaaaajor down-low (which evangelicals do a lot these days — weird, like they’re ashamed of something). But his boilerplate-evangelical attitudes and extremist leanings wouldn’t look out of place at any QAnon group meetup or non-denominational Baptist church.
(I’m putting my money on hardline Mormon, though. Family connections + a “family sawmill” + a currently-serving incumbent daddy? That screams Mormon. Seriously, non-Idahoans: you have no idea how tightly Mormon fists clench around this state’s throat. There aren’t even that many of them, about 26% of the population, but they’re highly placed.)
So, Charlie Shepherd is actually pretty unremarkable by the standards of Idaho’s state legislature.
The Bill That Shouldn’t Have Been a Problem.
Idaho’s not one of the most successful states in the Union. Sure, it boasts gorgeous scenery and a lot of really nice people (seriously — Boise in particular has become a hotbed of liberalism over the past 10 years). However, regressive economic policies and a religious stranglehold on politics has ensured that the state tends toward the middle to the bottom of most functionality markers.
According to this statistics site, about a third of Idaho households are “nonfamily.” 6% are single-mother families. The state’s educational system routinely turns out fewer high school and college graduates than the national average.
So I mean, you’d think that smart legislators would be keen to improve educational standards and help families out.
The other day, Newsweek tells us, House Bill 226 landed in the lap of Idaho’s House of Representatives. It promised to give Idaho’s educational system about USD$6M in various federal grants, mostly for early childhood education.
Even the senators representing Idaho in Congress, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, liked the bill. So did the state’s Republican governor, Brad Little. It also got the support of some important business councils and interests too.
HB 226 wasn’t supposed to fail. In fact, it was supposed to be a shoo-in.
And yet it failed anyway. Narrowly, but it failed.
Why Idaho House Republicans Rejected This Bill.
The ultraconservative wingnut faction of the Idaho legislature came out of the woodwork on this one. Hooboy, they were upset at the idea of those federal grants.
Many explicitly said they rejected the bill because they felt it would allow educators to get their hooks into children earlier than before, and from there to introduce ideas to children that the legislators personally didn’t like. Many cited fears that children might learn about white and male privilege — or anything else suspiciously liberal or social-justice-y. Interestingly, I saw quotes from a couple of legislators (like Tammy Nichols in that Newsweek story and here on Fox40.com) calling early childhood education “indoctrination.”
(The only moral indoctrination is their indoctrination, I suppose, to riff on a common lament about forced-birthers.)
According to Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (quoted in the Newsweek link above), these fears were completely baseless. She said:
“We do not tell local collaboratives what to teach and what not to teach. We are not engaged in teaching children transgenderism or anything of the kind.”
Oppenheimer also noted that 65% of Idaho’s children have both parents in the workforce. (That might have something to do with Idaho’s shockingly low wages.)
She hints at something important here. These early childhood education programs are invaluable to parents for two reasons:
First, of course, they provide a much-needed base of knowledge for young children.
Second, however, they ease a lot of childcare concerns for financially-stressed working parents.
And that second benefit is clearly what’s really bothering Idaho Republicans.
The Mommy Wars on Steroids.
In his arguments before the House, Charlie Shepherd decided that the bill, if accepted, would make it way too easy for mothers to enter the workforce. And that was not okay. Instead, he wanted all mothers to stay home and be stay-at-home parents. He said:
“I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.”
In his hand-wringing, Shepherd was joined by a few other representatives, including Barbara Ehardt. She got so torqued at the mere notion of working mothers that you almost wonder if she took the bill personally:
Ehardt reportedly told the House she had recently heard a group of women talking about mothers who were being “forced to remain home.”
She said: “You mean mothers raising their children? Have we gotten to the point that it is so denigrating and such a hardship for a mother that decides to remain home with their children that we have to disparage that?”
She’s mischaracterizing other mothers’ decisions and slamming their childrearing. How very, very loving!
Yep, the Mommy Wars never ended out here.
Enter Charlie Shepherd As Our Designated Adult.
But I think it was Charlie Shepherd’s status as a freshman representative and his hopelessly-misogynistic hot take on the bill that got everyone’s attention. His hand-wringing over the bill has just the most hysterically out-of-touch quality to it. Check this out from that Fox40.com:
Rep. Charlie Shepherd, a freshman Republican from Riggins, claimed the grant would hurt “the family unit.”
Expanding early childhood education would hurt the “family unit?” Destroying it helps, does it?
What about creating a workplace environment better than indentured servitude? Right now, Idaho Republicans force the working class to toil away for big-box corporate (evangelical) masters like Wal-Mart. Our huge contingent of working poor scrape by hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck. I mean, we didn’t all have a hoity-toity “family sawmill” that’d employ us no matter how bad our educations might be.
Or how ’bout not slashing and burning Idaho’s educational system to the ground, as Charlie Shepherd is very much doing as you read this post? (This dude really, really needs to read something besides the headlines of his local stake’s digital newsletter. I suggest he start here, with this 2012 column from The Onion. This will be Idaho in a few years — more than it is already, I mean.)
Or hey, could we even talk about Idaho’s abysmal social-safety net? Our legislators constantly refuse to expand safety net programs (as they refused when the Affordable Care Act passed). As it is, these programs insure 47% of the state’s children, according to this fact sheet. Also, they provide a number of long-term benefits. But for some reason, Idaho lawmakers drag their feet constantly about expanding these programs.
But in 2015, Idaho’s lawmakers were happy to spend almost a million dollars of Idahoans’ money fighting a literal lost cause in the evangelical culture wars.
I’m sure that this wasn’t the first time Charlie Shepherd has talked like this around his like-minded pals. What he said certainly seemed like a well-polished set of turds. Among the authoritarians of the Christian Right, none of it’s even provocative. It’s all taken utterly for granted.
But this time, he said this stuff around non-tribemates who did not share his wackadoodle worldview.
As a result, the backlash against Charlie Shepherd’s paternalistic, condescending, judgmental comments came swiftly. In fact, dozens of people showed up to demonstrate in front of the state’s capitol building on Wednesday. They gathered to protest the defeat of the bill and to demand it be passed.
Oh, and there was a hashtag circulating on Twitter too, #OutOfTheHome.
People were mad. Justifiably, rightfully, understandably mad.
(Quick civics note: From what I’ve gathered, a bill in Idaho can’t be brought back in the same legislative session after defeat except under another bill number. Once a bill is defeated, it’s dead for that session. So for the demonstrators’ demands to be met, legislators would need to craft a new bill from scratch that just looked like the old one. I don’t have a problem with making a new bill, of course. But I’m just sayin’, that’s how it’d apparently work.)
No No, Charlie Shepherd Meant That as a COMPLIMENT! Silly Girls!
As you might expect, Charlie Shepherd went on full defensive mode — by blaming women for not understanding that really, see, see, he was totally complimenting them. Silly girls, did we not realize? When he was slamming women’s personal choices and parenting and trying to shoehorn us all into a 1950s sitcom set like on WandaVision that, he was complimenting us!
Shepherd apologized from the House floor on Wednesday, according to The Hill. Let’s just say he did not actually make himself look better with this not-pology:
“My intent was to compliment mothers in every way possible. I stand before you now to admit that I failed miserably. After hearing my remarks played back, I recognize how my remarks sounded derogatory, offensive and even sexist towards the mothers of this state. … Single working mothers are the strongest and most courageous people that I know,” Shepherd said.
Yes, single mothers are often strong and courageous. They must be. As we were reminded today, Idaho’s legislators deliberately make their lot as hard as they possibly can.
However, remember that only 6% of Idaho’s households are headed by single mothers. Charlie Shepherd’s totalitarian Christianist governing strategy mostly hurts two-parent families, not single mothers. And of those two-parent households, 65% of them have both parents working outside the home. And many of the women in these households work because they must — because King Charlie and his pals are doing their best to destroy Idaho’s social safety net.
I have no idea how someone can possibly mischaracterize a situation harder than this guy did. I guess motivated reasoning is a helluva drug.
Charlie Shepherd’s Damage is Done.
Charlie Shepherd continued in his apology:
“I have learned the hard way that misguided statements do not help solve anything,” he added. “I sincerely apologize to any and all that I have offended, and I will work hard to right any wrongs that I have done.”
Alas, the damage is done for now.
Governor Brad Little said he’ll “try again” to get the bill passed somehow. He didn’t provide a timeline for this renewed effort. Until then, Shepherd’s not-pology hasn’t smoothed many feathers at all. One of the women who organized the demonstration, Hannah Sharp, put it best (relink):
“He apologized for the words he used but not the sentiment behind it,” she said. “It doesn’t take away the fact that he believes that women belong only at home, and it’s incredibly insensitive to women who work out of the home out of financial necessity to support their families. I’m hoping part of his apology will be to come out and support the bill now.”
Yeah, about that: he almost certainly won’t.
Dude’s an ultra-right-wing misogynistic and authoritarian Christian man. No way, no how does he think he needs to do anything further after bleating out his weak little not-pology that further insults women.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to learn that Charlie Shepherd is so chuffed from the backlash from what his tribe charmingly (and lovingly) refers to as “triggered libs” that he’s gauzily contemplating a run for the Presidency now.
Fear: The Root of All Evil.
Mostly, this fight came about because right-wing, authoritarian Christian wingnuts are absolutely terrified of their own impending decline and irrelevance.
Of course, their preferred, cherished way of life began dying out years ago. Perhaps ironically, much of the destruction of the middle class derives from the efforts of conservative lawmakers just like Charlie Shepherd. But it faces destruction all the same.
Christians like Charlie Shepherd associate their preferred lifestyle with correct and proper Jesus-ing. Then, they assume that Jesus himself commanded them to force people to live by their wacky religious rules. And that 100% applies to doing everything they can to force women into unwanted gender roles.
Authoritarians think that total, absolute control over others is all that makes them safe. Anything less feels dangerous and scary. In a very real sense, they’ve scared themselves silly over imagining what life would be like if they ever lost dominance.
So they seek to seize whatever power they can before it’s too late.
The Republic of Gilead Charlie Shepherd Thinks He Deserves.
The programming of Gilead begins with lockstep indoctrination in evangelical beliefs — the younger the victims, the better. And this totalitarian plan absolutely requires that these Christians destroy not only education but also women’s human rights and civil liberties.
After all, women certainly won’t consent to these two strategies. Thus, these Christians must destroy women’s ability to reject their control-grabs.
Were they to achieve this destruction, the only roles women would be able to hold would be those that Gilead’s masters allowed. Gilead’s masters would be the Designated Adults of their society, graciously telling us heathens how we would be allowed to live our lives.
So if evangelicals simply remove every other option from the gameboard, then women can only do whatever is left over, right? It’s like they want to run women through a cattle chute!
Oh, I’m feelin’ that “Christian love!” Yes sir, I surely am!
Defeating Religious Overreach.
This story about Charlie Shepherd reminds me anew of the dire importance of maintaining the boundary between religion and government. It also reminds me of the great importance of pushing back each and every single time on Christian overreach.
This time, that pushback did a lot of good.
I mean, it didn’t save a much-needed education bill. Alas, that ship sailed already. But it made a blustering blowhard Christianist look really bad. It made him issue any apology at all, even if it was a weasel-worded, insincere one.
And make no mistakes here. The only reason Charlie Shepherd even bothered to issue that was the backlash he incurred through his overreach. He didn’t apologize because it was the right thing to do. He only did it because someone prodded him into doing it.
But now people know him. We’ve taken his measure. We know what he really thinks about women. Most of all, we know how far he’ll go to win his tribe’s culture wars.
Dude would happily sacrifice the futures of little children if it means smacking working women across the face and especially if it’d help bring about the Republic of Gilead in Idaho.
Yep, I am deffo feelin’ that so-called “Christian love” tonight.
NEXT UP: An interesting tangle in a long-brewing slapfight at the Southern Baptist Convention. See you tomorrow!
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