For months, we’ve known that center-left Republicans and their political operatives have been trolling court and property records looking for dirt on conservative Idaho lawmakers. They probably thought they struck the mother lode when they learned that Rep. Bryan Zollinger, a studious freshman from Idaho Falls, who quickly distinguished himself as an articulate and likable conservative leader, has a heretofore undiscussed criminal record. They took the information, stale though it was, and anonymously mailed it to the media, and the detail was disseminated.
The cowards behind the campaign to smear Zollinger didn’t alert the press because they view him as a danger to others. Rather, he’s a danger to the status quo, to the corporate handouts and government welfare programs that are endemic in Idaho. They abhor the fact that Zollinger is devoted to liberty; they attack his character hoping they can bring him down so they can protect the status quo.
Zollinger’s past indiscretions are old. He had one charge of felony grand theft and five misdemeanors. All of these matters were settled in the 1990s and Zollinger, 41, has been on the straight-and-narrow ever since.
He graduated college with an accounting degree, then went to law school and earned a law degree. He married, and has five children, often seen with him at the Capitol during the last legislative session. In short, as he explained in a Facebook post days ago, “My story is a story of great American redemption.”
And it is. Zollinger is the definition of a servant leader, a role model for the community, the kind of person you want young people to meet and emulate. He coaches youth sports, is a Boy Scouts troop leader, serves in his church and in 2013 was elected to the Idaho Falls School District 91 board.
Zollinger is one of many Idahoans who overcame a troubled past. It’s good to have people like him playing a part in formulating public policy. Remember as well that boneheaded mistakes are often enough, by law, to deny people work or housing. For example, Idaho’s occupational licensure laws are highly unforgiving. Would-be real estate agents, doctors, physician assistants, social workers, contractors, dietitians, cosmetologists, barbers and accountants, among others, can be denied a license due to past conduct, even if that conduct has nothing to do with a given occupation or if the applicant has managed, like Zollinger, to turn things around.
Zollinger’s attackers refuse to reveal themselves. They take aid and comfort in the news media, egging journalists and editorial boards to do the dirty smear work. The goal, one would believe, is to land the punch that damages Zollinger’s reputation. In doing so, ironically, they allow Zollinger to again demonstrate he has a quality his gutless attackers lack: integrity.
“I will never run from my past,” Zollinger said in the Facebook video. “My past is what made me who I am. It made me want to give back to my community. It made me want to mentor youth. I spend a lot of time now speaking with youth, youth who are in trouble. I work with them and let them know we can overcome our mistakes. We can overcome our past, if we get on the right path, if we seek forgiveness from those we have offended or harmed.”
Agreed. And let’s add this: Those who seek to smear him should step into the light and let their motives be judged.