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Trump Support In Conservative Idaho Stays Strong Through Impeachment


Some residents of Idaho will proudly tell you they live in one of the most conservative states in the nation. For the last 30 years, Idaho has swung further to the right. NPR's Kirk Siegler recently relocated there and has been traveling the state to get the view on the impeachment of President Trump.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Republicans have held a supermajority in the Idaho Legislature since 2016. Unlike a lot of statehouses, here in Boise, you can just walk in, no security screening.

GREG PRUETT: Oh, the constitutional carry expansion.

SIEGLER: Most lawmakers carry handguns, says Greg Pruett. He does, too. He's the president of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance. He tells me his members aren't paying much attention to the impeachment trial.

PRUETT: President Trump is - really, from the first day that he took office or that he won the election, I should say, he's been under attack, right? And the left mobilized, and they're very good at doing this. And just - we're ready for 2020.

SIEGLER: But the right is also mobilized in Idaho. You'll see Trump 2020 flags mounted on poles and lit up at night on people's lawns or flying from the back of pickups alongside Build the Wall or Keep America Great stickers. Fast-growing Idaho is close to 90% white, and it's swung even further to the right as mines closed and logging declined.


SIEGLER: In Idaho Falls, 280 miles east of the capital, huge swaths of frozen, snowy farmland surround the town. Real estate appraiser Jeff Kelley says Democrats used to win some in rural places like this.

JEFF KELLEY: Yeah, I think they've abandoned the working class. They've abandoned the American. They've abandoned the heartland.

SIEGLER: Now, Kelley is watching the impeachment trial closely. He thinks Democrats are rushing it through because it's an election year. But he believes they don't have the evidence. He calls Trump crass and a blowhard, but he says he loves how he's not a typical politician and is keeping his eye on the economy.

KELLEY: I support him more today than I have when he first ran.

SIEGLER: When you head south of Idaho Falls, you see the farmland giving way to subdivisions. Housing is cheaper here, especially if you're coming from out of state.

PAUL VOELKER: Well, it was funny because the move to Idaho - we were watching TV one day, and there was a Gavin Newsom commercial. And my wife said, if he gets elected, we have to move.

SIEGLER: Now, Paul Voelker and his wife Pam are half joking about California's Democratic governor, but they did recently relocate from Orange County. The Voelkers call themselves economic and political refugees. Pam says she was a little nervous to come here at first.

PAM VOELKER: And when I told one of our neighbors that, they just laughed, and they said, oh, no, we - we're fine with Californians as long as they don't try to bring California with them.

SIEGLER: Pam says she's tuning out politics and the impeachment trial, but Paul is tracking it. He doesn't think what the president did was unconstitutional.

PAUL VOELKER: This is truly a political impeachment. It has nothing to do with what he did. They have been looking for a reason to get him out of office since the day he took office three years ago.

SIEGLER: A lot of people here told me they think the impeachment could end up backfiring on Democrats because the economy is picking up. Idaho is one of the poorest states in the nation. Lot of folks have to work multiple jobs to get by here, especially in isolated rural towns that used to rely heavily on logging.

In the state's northern mountains near Orofino, Jerry Johnson is demolishing an old timber mill that shut down right before the 2016 election. He also relocated here from Northern California. Johnson credits the Trump administration for streamlining regulations for business that he says helped jumpstart his project. It's going to be a new state-of-the-art lumber mill for laminated wood.

JERRY JOHNSON: Once Trump was elected and started making the policy changes, I said, we can do this project here. And so it's been full bore since then.

SIEGLER: Congress ought to focus more on helping out struggling towns like this, Johnson says, instead of focusing on what he calls a political distraction, the impeachment.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Orofino, Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.