One of Idaho's Most Popular Republican Governors Comes Out in Support of LGBT Rights

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

Originally published on Advocate.com November 04 2013 8:05 PM ET

One of Idaho's most popular and influential Republican politicians in the state's history, former governor Phil Batt, just added his weight behind the push for LGBT equality in the state. According to Dan Popkey at the Idaho Statesman, Batt endorsed Idaho's Add the Words campaign, which is aimed at adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Human Rights Act, which already prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, color, religion, national origin, and disability.

The Add the Words campaign has been pushing for inclusion for eight years, but support from the 86-year-old Batt, the man who authored the Human Rights Act, gives the gem state's LGBT residents a big boost. 

“A homosexual who can’t rent a room or get a job because of his orientation doesn’t make any sense to anybody,” said Batt, as he became the first recipient of the Idaho Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is given by the Human Rights Commission in Caldwell, Idaho. “Why some of the politicians are not more sensitive than that — more sensible, I should say than that — beats me.”

Popkey reported that Batt also said the lawmakers’ refusal to amend the Human Rights Act in the 2013 session “accomplished absolutely nothing … except to be made to look like fools.” According to Popkey, "The Senate State Affairs Committee refused to print a bill brought by then-Democratic Leader Edgar Malapeai in 2012, prompting the lawmaker to fight back tears. In 2013, the same committee held an informational hearing but did not take up any legislation."

The former governor has been a part of Idaho politics for decades. He spent 16 years in the legislature, was lieutenant governor from 1979-1983, and became governor in 1994 — an election, Popkey notes, that ended "24 years of Democratic control of the governorship." He's long been a leader in civil rights, advocating for proper treatment of farm workers and immigrants, helping set up the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and as a young man protesting local clubs that didn't admit Japanese-Americans.

Popkey reports,"Batt’s comments on Add the Words were first reported in Friday’s Lewiston Tribune by editorial page editor Marty Trillhaase, relying a transcript provided by the commission’s executive director, Pam Parks."

The transcript has Batt recalling that his father was born about 20 years after the Civil War, and notes that when the future governor was born in 1927, the Emancipation Proclamation was just 64 years old.

“It’s interesting to think about how recently these things occurred,” Batt said. “We have made marvelous steps forward since then.”

Some other choice quotes from Popkey's account of the event:

He recounted his experience as an 18-year-old private in Army basic training in Biloxi, Miss. “I was appalled at what I saw of the treatment of blacks down there. Walk down the sidewalks and blacks would move off into the gutter because that was what they were expected to do.”

Though Idaho had few African-Americans, Batt recalled “No Mexicans Allowed,” posted by businesses. He resigned from the Elks Club over a whites-only policy, after the club refused to let his Japanese-American friend and business partner Kay Inouye join him at dinner. After the club lifted the rule, Batt re-applied but 14 members black-balled him. “That set a record,” he said.

Batt also knocked 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for his call for people living in the U.S. illegally to return to their home countries and wait in line to re-enter. “Totally impractical,” Batt said, noting that the GOP got about 30 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012. “I think we kind of deserve to be put down when we are not more sensitive than that.”

Read more at the Idaho Statesman