Reps. Chaney, Green forge unlikely bipartisan effort against ‘intimidation tactic’
Green said she will bring bill back next year or find another way to restore order if protests continue
Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, listens to floor debate at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Rep. Greg Chaney knew it was only a matter of time before the protesters showed up at his family’s home, under the cover of darkness, with torches and pitchforks.
But when they did come in February, he did not expect the protesters would bring a stuffed animal, wearing a shirt with “Chaney” printed out neatly in bright colors, hanged in effigy.
“I knew going in it wasn’t going to be easy,” Chaney, R-Caldwell, said in a telephone interview. “I knew it would get pretty ugly.
Three of the Chaneys’ children under the age of 13 were home.
“It didn’t bother me for my sake, it bothered me to see the unrest in my wife and my kids,” Chaney said. “My wife is tough. She always has my back, and I have hers. But it did create a sense of insecurity in our home. It lingered for — it still lingers if you talk to her — but it was palpable for a couple of weeks after.”
Chaney and his wife, Sarah, received a tip that the protesters were coming.
Police knew too and were patrolling the block.
The Chaneys arranged to have the young children out of the home.
But hours passed and nobody showed up.
So they picked up the children and returned home.
Twenty-five or 30 minutes later, they arrived.
Why did angry protesters gather outside Chaney’s home?
Chaney had recently signed on as a co-sponsor of House Bill 195, which was designed to prohibit targeted residential picketing in front of or adjacent to a person’s home with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm.
Chaney is something of an anomaly in the Idaho Legislature. He is a Republican committee chairman with influence who has been willing to go against the GOP tide and to reach across the aisle.
“I went to him and said, ‘Listen you had a lot of courage to say what you did out loud,’” Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, said after Chaney first stood up to protesters back in 2020.
His overall approach has won Chaney respect from both parties.
“I just really appreciate his willingness to look at tough issues to find good solutions for Idaho,” Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, said.
Before the picketing bill failed, Chaney, who is chairman of the House Judiciary and Rules Committee, held a hearing on the measure Feb. 17.
The hearing grew heated and personal. One person who spoke brought up that in 2009 Chaney was arrested on domestic battery charges, which were later amended to disturbing the peace, as reported by the Idaho Press.
The night of the legislative hearing, the protesters showed up at Chaney’s house.
About 15 of them, with pitchforks and torches. They sang and chanted, but Chaney couldn’t make out what. They drew in chalk on the sidewalk.
And they left the stuffed animal with the rope tied around its neck.
Chaney asked his children not to look out the window.
But he looked and someone took photos.
He said he recognized five of the protesters from the hearing that day at the Statehouse.
“They are part of Ammon Bundy’s People’s Right Group,” Chaney said, referencing the anti-government activist who helped lead the 2016 occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“This is just simply not how people in a republic operate,” Chaney said. “This is not the way policy should be affected. It is, at its heart, an intimidation tactic.”
A bipartisan partnership in the hyper partisan Idaho Legislature
Green brought the targeted residential picketing bill forward. She sought Chaney as a co-sponsor because she saw Chaney publicly call out the home protests.
On April 22, 2020, Chaney posted a video to social media after protesters gathered outside the home of a Meridian Police Department officer. They targeted the officer after the officer arrested a woman who attended a protest and disobeyed a playground closure that was put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Idaho Statesman reported.
In his video, Chaney told his constituents to be careful because political opportunists are trying to rile them up and manipulate them by saying freedom and liberty are threatened.
Chaney called out Bundy and the protesters too, saying they brought additional threat and risk to the officer and his family.
“Go home Ammon,” Chaney said in the video.
Residential protests picked up from there.
In December, protesters showed up at the home of then Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo, who was participating in a Central District Health board meeting to consider a health order to limit gathering sizes and require masks or face coverings when physical distancing cannot be maintained. Lachiondo was at the meeting, not her home, when they arrived and frightened her son. She left the meeting suddenly, in tears, after announcing that her 12-year-old son was home alone, Boise State Public Radio reported.
Green said this kind of protest goes too far.
“Nothing was more resonant than seeing the kids becoming victims in their home because of parents doing their jobs,” Green said in a telephone interview.
Republicans control a 58-12 supermajority in the Idaho House. That’s more than enough to pass any budget or bill without any help.
If they all work together, it’s also enough to override a veto.
Although legislators do reach across the aisle, bipartisan efforts are more rare than in states with a less lopsided balance of power.
But Green, a Democrat, said she wanted to demonstrate that people on both sides of the aisle cared about the issue.
“It was so important, quite frankly that was the intention to show there are things in which we can collectively coalesce behind,” Green said. “It was really important for us to show this was a bipartisan effort to restore civility to our community and provide them some level of protection and tranquility.”
The bill attracted the opposition of such unlikely allies as the ACLU and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Legislators who opposed it argued that it was well-intentioned but broad and infringed on First Amendment rights of peaceably assembling and petitioning government for the redress of grievances.
But some legislators noted the stand Green and Chaney took.
“He has a pretty clear north star and I think that’s why the picketing legislation is something he was willing to take on,” said Troy, a Republican from who sits on the House Judiciary and Rules Committee that Chaney chairs.
Troy supported Green’s bill, saying she worries that protests will collide with the recent passage of stand-your-ground laws.
“We could be setting up the perfect storm for something really bad to happen,” Troy said.
For Green and Chaney, the picketing story does not have a happy ending. Many of the opponents of their bill told them the protests would go away if the bill went away.
But after the bill died, Bundy’s supporters protested outside Magistrate Judge David Manweiler’s home on April 3, the Idaho Statesman reported. Manweiler is presiding over a case where Bundy faces trespassing charges following a series of arrests last year at the Statehouse.
Green said she will bring the bill back next year or find another way to restore order if the protests continue.
“The last thing I want is to add more laws to the book,” Green said. “We shouldn’t have to legislate this behavior.”
Green and Chaney said their alliance on the bill led to a friendship. But now that the debate is over, Green started to worry.
“He is a phenomenal colleague, and I appreciate the friendship we are able to have coming out of this,” Green said.” “But I also recognize as a Republican in his district and with some of the folks especially in a closed primary, this bipartisan effort might actually hurt him and that is unfortunate that this is how politics is now.
“It takes a ton of courage for people to move forward with really sticky legislation and work across the aisle to get things done,” Green added.
How Chaney views his role as an Idaho legislator
The picketing bill isn’t the only time Chaney has demonstrated he isn’t beholden to the fringes of the party or partisan loyalty tests.
In his April 2020 video, Chaney called out Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, saying she was feeding the fire by speaking at rallies and urging people to defy the coronavirus stay-home order.
During the 2020 legislative session, Chaney declined to hold a House Judiciary and Rules Committee vote on a Republican-sponsored bill that would have made it a felony for doctors to provide transgender health care to anyone under 18, the Idaho Press reported.
An attorney by trade, Chaney views his role as a policymaker as something of an investigator.
He said he constantly reminds himself the average man or woman in his Canyon County district isn’t an extremist, isn’t on the mailing list of Bundy’s People’s Rights Movement or Black Lives Matter. Instead, they want a good quality of life, without the government overextending into their lives.
At the same time, Chaney believes they don’t want their roads or schools falling apart.
When he faces a hard vote, Chaney said he pours over relevant information, public records or statutes and tries to put himself in the shoes of the regular folks he knows aren’t swayed by the extremes.
“Through looking at the best information possible, I see my role as somebody sent to get to the bottom of what would that ‘everyman’ in District 10 want, what would they ask for if they could spend the same amount of time researching those issues?” Chaney said.
He said he tests his conclusions against the feedback he receives to gauge his results.
That’s not to say Chaney is some secret progressive foiling the GOP from within or a “RINO,” a Republican in name only.
He voted for House Bill 220, which would prevent the use of public funds for abortion. He also voted for House Bill 206, the “Building Idaho’s Future” law, that used some of the state budget surplus to invest in rifles, body cameras, non-lethal riot batons, safety glasses and jackets for Idaho State Police. After Chaney voted for HB 206, he tweeted that he was proud to defend the legislation on the House floor from anyone who would defund the police.
“I consider myself a Christian first, American second, Idahoan third and Republican fourth,” Chaney said.
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