A sure sign the politics of Idaho have changed for the worse is when attacks on good legislators begin weeks after the Legislature adjourns and a full year before the next election. That’s what is happening in our state right now.
Billboards have surfaced like weeds in Canyon County attacking Rep. Julie Yamamoto, chair of the House Education Committee, and in Moscow attacking Rep. Lori McCann, vice chair of the House Education Committee and also a board member of Idaho Business for Education.
The Moscow billboard accuses Rep. McCann of “failing to support our children.” In large letters against a pinkish background, it asks, “WILL YOU HELP?” Then it urges someone to “apply now to be a candidate for District 6.”
The billboard attacking Rep. Yamamoto is a carbon copy of the one attacking McCann and accuses the life-long educator of not supporting children and urges someone to run against her in District 11.
Both billboards send a clear message that would-be candidates would have support if they decided to run against Yamamoto and McCann.
So, why would these two legislators who voted for every bill that strengthens public education and supports Idaho’s 300,000 public school students be attacked for supposedly not supporting young people? Because Yamamoto and McCann had the temerity to oppose efforts to use taxpayer dollars to support private and religious schools at the expense of our public schools.
These billboards are sponsored by a pro-voucher group called Citizens Alliance of Idaho. The Alliance is one of nearly 14 groups, many from out of state, urging lawmakers to pass a voucher-like program to support private and religious schools.
The Citizens Alliance of Idaho spent $354,000 to elect voucher-friendly legislators in Idaho last year. Of that, $150,000 came from the Ohio-based Citizens Alliance Super PAC. Additionally, Doyle Beck and Bryan Smith who serve on the board of the Idaho Freedom Foundation tossed in another $30,000 each to finance the Alliance.
Meanwhile, another out-of-state privatization group, the American Federation for Children, circulated a flyer in northern Idaho this spring thanking Sen. Scott Herndon “for standing with Idaho’s students and parents.”
The flyer, which had a return address for a suite in Dallas, Texas, claimed that “Senator Scott Herndon is putting Idaho’s Students First!”
The truth is Herndon didn’t vote for any bill that would help Idaho’s students. He voted no on increased funding for our public schools. No on increased funding for career technical education. No on $5 million to help students with dyslexia. No on funding for community colleges. No on funding for higher education. No on grants for students to attend community college or technical schools. No on scholarships for students to attend college.
Herndon even voted against a special appropriation to provide extra law enforcement security at the University of Idaho after four students were murdered in November.
The only education bills Herndon supported were those that would send taxpayer dollars to support students who attend private and religious schools.
So much for putting students first!
It is no surprise that the American Federation for Children would distort Herndon’s record. During the 2022 Republican primary election in Idaho, AFC spent $200,000 to elect pro-privatization legislators like Herndon and another $74,000 in the general election.
And the spending by these pro-voucher groups did not stop after the election. Of the top 10 spendings organizations lobbying the 2023 Legislature, three were pro-voucher groups, including the American Federation of Children which spent $81,000, more than any other special interest group.
The other two were the Citizens Alliance of Idaho, which spent $36,000, and Young Americans for Liberty, which spent $59,000. By comparison, traditional Idaho interest groups, the Idaho Farm Bureau and Idaho Realtors spent a mere $18,711 and $15,442 respectively.
Additionally, three of the top 10 individual spenders were pro-voucher lobbyists: Bill Phillips, American Federation for Children, $75,024; Lucious O’Dell, Young Americans for Liberty, $59,278; Matt Edwards, Citizens Alliance of Idaho, $36,312, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
More and more interest groups like the American Federation for Children are trying to convince Idahoans what is truthful is false and what is false is truthful. That legislators like Scott Herndon are champions of education when they are not and pro-education legislators like Julie Yamamoto and Lori McCann don’t support students when they do.
In other words, what is happening to politics in Idaho is even bigger than just the issue of vouchers versus the future of public education. It is also about truth versus disinformation. It is about integrity versus deception.
Unfortunately, many Idahoans are falling for the disinformation and deception leveled against our very best lawmakers. Last year their deceptive campaigns cost many good lawmakers their seats. Now they want to defeat good people like Yamamoto and McCann with the same trickery.
If they succeed, the real losers will be the public-school students in Idaho.
The success these pro-voucher, well-funded, misinformation mongers have enjoyed only confirms what Mark Twain once observed: “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.”
For the sake of Idaho’s future, we can only hope that “truth” starts lacing up its boots fast and sends these carpetbaggers back to Dallas and Ohio or wherever they came from.