Depending on how you categorize the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the far-right leaning lobbyist and media organization's "Freedom Index" is either a badge of honor, campaign fodder or laughable.
The reputation of the Idaho Legislature may be among the most conservative in the country, but it isn't enough for IFF Executive Director Wayne Hoffman, who believes the body is certainly among the most Republican.
"But conservative? Not even close," said Hoffman. "Intentionally or innocently, the conservative label is a misnomer that serves to confuse voters."
Which is why, Hoffman said, it has been left to his organization to look at each bill introduced at the Statehouse, decide if it grows or shrinks government, raises or lowers taxes, and determine whether it "supports special interests or the free market." Then the index uses a legislator's voting scorecard to determine his or her approbation from IFF.
King and queen of the 2016 IFF prom are Reps. Ron Nate (R-Rexburg) and Heather Scott (R-Blanchard), each earning marks higher than 97 percent on the IFF index. Nate and Scott both voted against a measure to include workers' compensation coverage for firefighters diagnosed with cancer. Each also opposed three of this year's seven K-12 public school budget bills.
Other legislators—all Republicans—who got high marks on the 2016 IFF Freedom Index were Reps. Steve Harris (Meridian), Shannon McMillan (Silverton), Sage Dixon (Ponderay) and Kathleen Sims (Coeur d'Alene); and Sens. Steve Vick (Dalton Gardens), Bob Nonini (Coeur d'Alene) and Sheryl Nuxoll (Cottonwood). All except Nate and Harris are from northern Idaho.
At the bottom of the IFF Freedom Index are a batch of Democrats, most of whom are from the Treasure Valley: Reps. Hy Kloc (Boise), Ilana Rubel (Boise), John McCrostie (Garden City), Melissa Wintrow (Boise), Elaine Smith (Pocatello) and Phyllis King (Boise).
Hoffman said too many legislators with an "R" attached to their name vote to support "big government" yet "return home to wave the conservative banner, hoping that none dare challenge their rhetoric."
Hoffman and IFF's particular ire is directed at Idaho Republicans who score low or in the middle of the IFF pack, because they might support the proposed school budget or more government oversight. The lowest-ranking Republican in the 2016 IFF Freedom Index is Rep. Fred Wood (Burley) a five-term legislator and chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee. Wood made headlines when he and Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls) joined House Democrats in opposing legislation to grant an additional $2 million in state funds to fuel attorneys fees in constitutional lawsuits that Idaho nearly always loses.
- Kelsey Hawes
- Who has the distinction of being at the bottom of IFF’s “Freedom Index”? Rep. Hy Kloc (D-Boise).
Rep. Kelley Packer (R-McCammon) didn't get the worst marks among her GOP colleagues on this year's IFF Freedom Index—with a D-minus—and 36 other Republican members of the Idaho House and Senate got lower grades. Nonetheless, Packer did have some of the choicest words for IFF when, in February, she said, "I don't know that they're necessarily an honest, conservative voice." In a mid-session podcast, Packer told her constituents IFF was practicing its own version of bullying, adding, "There's just a lot of ironies and hypocrisies that I see in place."
As for Democrats who scored better than some Republicans on the IFF Freedom Index, Sens. Dan Rudolph (Moscow), Grant Burgoyne (Boise) and Cherie Buckner-Webb (Boise) scored higher than Rep. Wood, Sen. Fred Martin (Boise) and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bart Davis (Idaho Falls).