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Top Idaho lawmaker botches civil rights history

Dan Popkey
March 15, 2013
Idaho Statesman

The No. 3 Republican leader in the Idaho House says he made a "slight mistake" when he described Rosa Parks as a champion of states' rights.

"One little lady got tired of the federal government telling her what to do," Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa said during Wednesday's debate on Gov. Butch Otter's bill establishing a state-run health insurance exchange. "I've reached that point, Mr. Speaker, that I'm tired of giving in to the federal government."

In fact, Parks' arrest for violating a local law by refusing to give up her seat on a segregated Montgomery, Ala., bus in 1955 sparked the civil rights movement, which ultimately ended a century of state-enforced racial discrimination in "Jim Crow" laws.

The movement reached its climax in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act when the U.S. Congress overcame full-throated Southern cries of "states' rights."

Crane's misreading of one of the most important moments in American history has prompted concern among some lawmakers.

"There were some eyebrows raised when he went to Rosa Parks," House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said Thursday.

Democrats were annoyed, said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, but he purposely held his tongue during debate.

"Do you think there was any point in standing up and pointing out the irony?" Rusche said. "That debate was about how much we hate Obamacare, Republican primary elections, control of the Republican caucus and Republican central committees back home."

"I felt the reference to be offensive and disrespectful," said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise, the only African-American in the 105-member Legislature.

"Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation in all public facilities," Buckner-Webb said. "Those laws resulted in systematic disadvantage for African-Americans across the South, including limited access to health care and early death. The state health exchange, conversely, is meant to provide health care and extend lives through the treatment of all, including the disenfranchised."

In 1993, Buckner-Webb spent a day with Rosa Parks when she came to speak at Boise State. When Parks died in 2005, about 50,000 people viewed her casket at the U.S. Capitol. Last month, in an unveiling ceremony including the president, House speaker and Senate leader, Parks became the first African-American woman to have a statue in the Capitol.

"She was a gentle, purposeful, committed civil rights advocate, interested in a better way of life for every man, woman and child," Buckner-Webb said.

Crane told me he received no feedback about his error until I inquired Thursday. "I had people say, 'You did a great job in your debate.' People understood the point I was trying to make. And I'm sorry if it was an oversight. Obviously, I didn't do my research."

Did Crane know the historical context before he Googled "Rosa Parks" on the House floor in preparation for his debate?

"I'm sure we went over that in history class in high school and possibly in history in college, possibly," said Crane, who graduated from Nampa Christian High School and has a bachelor's in political science from BSU.

Crane, 38, is in his seventh year in the Legislature. His father, Ron, is a Canyon County political legend who served 16 years in the House before winning four terms as state treasurer.

A confidant of Congressman Raul Labrador, Crane is high on the list of potential candidates for 1st District Congress should Labrador run for governor next year.

Crane called his misstatement "a slight mistake" regarding "a little fact." Five times in our five-minute conversation he said he was "disappointed" about my writing about his error. "You knew my heart, you knew what I was trying to say. I'm saying, just like Rosa Parks, 'Enough is enough.'"


Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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