The terms “Republican” and “conservative” in Idaho are well defined … by Wayne Hoffman’s Idaho Freedom Foundation. And the only “true” Republicans in the state Legislature are those who score high on the IFF’s “Freedom Index.”
It also helps to oppose Gov. Brad Little on education spending and the Launch program for Idaho high school students – which has become one of his signature issues. Those who support Little’s education agenda as RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only.
A group called Take Back Idaho has launched a campaign to provide a different sort of narrative from the IFF and those to the right. The group includes past Republican office holders such as former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and former Attorney General (and now columnist) Jim Jones.
Jennifer Ellis, a Chesterfield rancher who chairs TBI, says the list of participants goes well beyond retired politicians.
“We have everything from lawyers, to cowboys, to educators, to diehard community activists,” she said. And one purpose is to provide legislators with a different slate of talking points – at least, different from what the IFF provides.
“When we see policy driven by the far right, we will call out what’s driving it … where it’s coming from and why the freedom foundation likes it,” Ellis said. “I really want these far-right legislators to have to look in the mirror once in a while and ask, ‘who am I doing this for?’ Is it for the betterment of Idaho? Or is it for the betterment of their political career?”
In a TBI news release, Ellis said, “Truth, facts, context and informed commentary will help Idahoans sort out the disinformation and misinformation. With all of us working together, we can take the politics out of policy and get our elected officials working for the people again.”
Newcomb says in the release that there is urgency with the cause.
“The silent majority can no longer sit back and hope things will change,” he said. “If we don’t engage, we will continue down the path of losing our public education system to the far right, as evidenced by the actions in the Legislature in the recent sessions.”
Ellis isn’t new to going against the Idaho Freedom Foundation, heading an organization called Idaho Conservatives. She sees Take Back Idaho of having a similar purpose, but potentially with a higher profile – and greater participation. TBI is working with a public relations firm, Snake River Strategies, to distribute information though social media and other outlets.
“Take Back Idaho was not Idaho Conservatives’ idea, I was just asked to be a part of it. I am the chairman, because I am willing to do the legwork. Those folks I am working with are far and away more accomplished than I am,” she said.
“I can’t imagine anything being worse than an elected Republican in this state, knowing you are running against your party, the IFF and the Idaho Family Policy Alliance,” Ellis said. “You are branded as being not conservative enough if you don’t vote with the IFF, or not Christian enough if you don’t vote with the Idaho Family Policy Alliance.”
Those legislators of the more moderate ilk will have an ally with Ellis and Take Back Idaho. But don’t expect pep talks from the governor, who has brushed aside questions about the state GOP — a group that has given him a vote of “no confidence.” Lately, central committees throughout the state have been calling out – or disciplining – Republican legislators for supporting Little’s top initiatives on education, saying those measures violate the party’s platform.
Ellis, for one, doesn’t blame the governor for his lack of involvement. “People like Brad Little are the consummate grown-ups. I think he is doing the best he can with the landscape the way it is. Do we want a governor who engages in the juvenile tactics that the IFF and some legislators use? I sure don’t.”
I’ve talked with others who would like to hear the governor say something about the direction of the state GOP, in the name of “leadership.” Of course, maybe there’s not much a governor can say or do if the Republican Party is bent on cannibalizing itself.