Imagine having to argue for Superfund site clean-up in a community that has depended on local mining operations for more than a century.
That’s just part of what Rob Hanson had to do for years when he was a mine waste program manager with Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality. Together with his longtime membership of a Mennonite church – a historic peace church that teaches non-violence – those polarized experiences have helped make him very well suited to his work as Braver Angels’ state coordinator (Blue) in Idaho.
“The clean-up discussions were really controversial,” recalls Hanson. “We had to persuade those communities that if the clean-up didn’t happen, their economic future would be in danger too.”
Now retired, Hanson continues as state coordinator but since March 2021, he has also been responsible for regional coordination across Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. “A lot of what I try to do is empower people,” he says. He joins Braver Angels’ other regional leads in helping field operations chiefs Steve Saltwick and Lynn Heady with all that is required to support local activity across our fast-growing organization.
Hanson is keen to invigorate the formation of more local alliances across a region that has relatively few of them – and not just because of its low population density compared to other parts of the country. He is encouraged by the alliance activity in the Denver metro area and impressed by what Wyoming and Montana are doing together to set up and support events. “I like seeing how they collaborate with each other,” he says. His personal priority is to make contact and build relationships with coordinators in each of the states he now supports. And he’s eager to help launch more events – and a wider range of them – across the region.
The events aren’t necessarily likely to span the conventional Red/Blue divide. Indeed, it’s probable that many will be distinctly Red/Red. One reflection of that: in Idaho’s 2022 gubernatorial election, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin will run against Governor Brad Little, also a GOP member, using the incumbent’s responses to the pandemic as a key campaign plank.
Further to the Red/Red divide: Hanson recalls one Red who, on an Idaho state members’ call, talked about his wish to be able to talk constructively with a far-right neighbor and his plan to use Braver Angels methods to do so. “Others on the call appreciated hearing that,” says Hanson. “They were encouraged that he took a chance to reach out and rebuild a relationship.”
Some themes for Hanson’s region are truly national; for example, members in Utah and Idaho are talking about sponsoring a debate on critical race theory. Other themes will be global but with a regional flavor, such as climate change. “This is the first day we’ve had smoke from wildfires in California,” said Hanson in early July. (He wants to pull together a debate on climate change soon.) Other events will be of more local interest, such as the cuts in education funding that have been taking up plenty of ink in Idaho headlines.
Like his peers across the country, Hanson will be beating the drum to rally more Braver Angels members; among other initiatives, he hopes for more involvement by young people since he and his colleagues reached out to Boise State University.
And yes, he’s looking for members to step forward to chair alliances across the Mountain states. Do we see your hand in the air? Then Rob Hanson is waiting to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.