New committee of veteran Idaho officials seeks to take on extremists

A group of former Idaho government, business and agriculture leaders has created a new political action committee designed to oust extremists from the Idaho Legislature.

One of Take Back Idaho PAC’s strategies is to support candidates who support schools and public education. 

Jennifer Ellis, a rancher and former president of the Idaho Cattle Association, is the chairwoman of the Take Back Idaho PAC. Other members of the political action committee include former Speaker of the Idaho House Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley; former Idaho Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs; former Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and former Idaho attorney general and retired Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones, and former Weiser School District Superintendent Wil Overgaard.

The committee plans to support and try to help elect candidates in legislative races starting in 2022, particularly candidates who will support education. The committee also plans to oppose incumbent legislators who attack education and who Take Back Idaho PAC members view as extremist in their views and policy positions. 

The Take Back Idaho Committee does plan to raise and spend campaign money, Newcomb said. 

“First and foremost, we want to groom candidates and make sure they are financed and supported and help them in every way we can to get elected,” Newcomb said in a telephone interview. “That’s the goal here, to get people that really are concerned and support our schools and our communities.” 

Other new groups oppose extremism in Idaho as well

Take Back Idaho PAC isn’t the only group created to push back against the far right and the nonprofit Idaho Freedom Foundation. 

Boiseans Nathaniel Hoffman and Emily Walton formed the Idaho 97 Project LLC to oppose extremism, hold legislators accountable, engage Idahoans and support education. 

The nonpartisan group Reclaim Idaho led the effort behind the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion ballot initiative and is now working to qualify an education ballot initiative for the 2022 general election. 

And this fall, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobbying group that represents some 300 Idaho businesses, pushed back against the Legislature’s efforts to pass bills placing restrictions or liabilities on businesses regarding vaccines. 

Take Back Idaho leaders formed the PAC out of concern for the influence the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation was having on the Idaho Legislature, particularly the Idaho House of Representatives, Newcomb said. During the 2021 session, far right members of the Idaho House aligned with the freedom foundation led the effort to cut $2.5 million from the higher education budget and sidetrack the public school budget for teacher salaries after legislators alleged public school students were being indoctrinated with social justice programs and rejected $6 million in federal funding for preschool.

“That is just not acceptable,” Newcomb said. “It never was and it’s definitely not now, especially after going through a pandemic and people trying to catch up and make up for lost time.”

Several Take Back Idaho PAC members said the pushback against education was the last straw for them.

“The recent disruptive legislative sessions have pointed to the desperate need to replace dangerous extremists in the Legislature,” Ellis said in a written statement. “Instead of putting forward positive ideas to improve the everyday lives of Idahoans, these politicians waste valuable time and taxpayer money. This vocal minority has replaced civility and common sense with conspiracy theories, fringe views, and cheap political theater.”

The primary election for statewide and legislative races will be held in May if Idaho’s redistricting maps, which created new legislative and congressional districts after the 2020 census information became available, aren’t delayed by several legal challenges. The general election will be held in November.

More information about the Take Back Idaho Committee and the issues its members will highlight is available on its website.

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