One thing I learned from my five years at the Post Register in the 1980s was the love that people in Idaho Falls had for Republicans. Almost as much as the 4th of July.
Republicans in Eastern Idaho revolved around a common theme: Elect more Republicans. Publicly going after incumbents, and especially those in high offices, was akin to booing Santa Claus, or cooking the Easter bunny for Thanksgiving dinner.
But the dynamics have changed with Dorothy Moon, who was elevated to the state chairmanship after losing her bid for secretary of state. The party now operates under the “Republican Party Platform Enforcement Rule,” which was approved last summer. Scores on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s “Freedom Index” are indicators of whether legislators deserve to carry the Republican banner. So, the county and city (Idaho Falls) that have long loved Republicans, are “investigating” the votes by all three legislators from District 32 – Reps. Wendy Horman, Stephanie Mickelsen and Sen. Kevin Cook. Complaints also have been filed against the legislators of District 33: Reps. Barbara Ehardt, Marco Adam Erickson and Sen. Dave Lent.
Horman, who in her sixth term, has the highest profile of the group. She is co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which finalizes the state budget. Not surprisingly, she gets low marks on the Freedom Index, along with the House speaker, the Senate president pro tem, among others.
“I think the implication is I’m not voting the way that four people want me to vote,” Horman told me during a recent visit to her Statehouse office. According to the Post Register, complaints against Horman including voting to consolidate the March presidential primary election with the May primary election date; voting to “restrict access of minors to sexual exhibitions” (such as drag shows); voting to appropriate funds to the joint medical education program with three other states; and voting for the higher education budget.
If the central committee is looking for a JFAC co-chair to vote against budgets, it isn’t going to happen – with Horman, or anyone else, sitting in the chair.
“JFAC is unusual,” she says. “There are 20 members and over 100 motions are proposed for budgets. There’s no way that one person can work all those budgets. So, you have to rely on each other to work as a team. This is a joint committee, and we work collaboratively. You have to rely on your colleagues and trust the work they are doing. I don’t get my way on every budget, even though I am the chair.”
She says there is no need for a special committee to look into her votes. All anybody needs to do is ask, “and I will be happy to answer questions,” she says. But the process outlined by the central committee does not have the appearance of a friendly conversation.
“That’s not what this is. This, in my opinion, is very totalitarian and very authoritarian, where a small group of people think they can tell an elected representative how to vote. It feels like blatant intimidation,” Horman says. “The first potential outcome is censure and guidance. Tell me that is not North Korean re-education. Tell me how that is not Nazi Germany.”
Doyle Beck, who chairs the Bonneville Republican Central Committee, told the Post Register that party officials should be able to hold their elected officials accountable. “My only comment is you committed to follow the platform and be judged by it. You committed to the integrity in affiliation rule. This is really about, ‘Was your vote proper or not proper?’ If it was not, you should come tell us about it.”
Who can blame the legislators for not participating in this circus? The process outlined by the committee has buzzwords, such as “investigation” and “disciplinary action,” as if the lawmakers are facing criminal indictments. Legislators, who are labeled as “the accused,” can have an attorney if they wish. All that’s missing is a smoke-filled room.
Call this process what it really is. A kangaroo court.