A guest opinion by Richard Larsen, president of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) would have us believe that their “Freedom Index” is the benchmark by which conservative legislators should be judged. In reality, it is of marginal use in identifying fealty to conservative values, and is being used as a bully tactic against select legislators whom the Foundation has targeted as dispensable.
The foundational principles for conservatives are those articulated in our founding documents. Primary among these are the classical-liberal, inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” or property. To accurately gauge or measure the conviction of legislators to our ideological roots, some means of quantifying and indexing votes against this tripartite value system would need to be created. To my knowledge, there is no such system. Indeed, any kind of objective methodology behind such an index would likely be impossible to create and measure.
In spite of their impressive list of items considered in their “Freedom Index Rating Matrix,” every rating boils down to one factor; does a bill expand or constrict the growth of government. Indeed, in an online discussion with Wayne Hoffman, the President of the IFF, Hoffman conceded, “The Freedom Index measures growth of government.” This is wholly inadequate as the foundation for what is peddled as the ultimate statewide canon for measuring conservative orthodoxy.
Here is where the heretofore broadly applied “conservative” appellation for the index collapses. I have yet to find "measure growth of government" or even "growth of government" as a founding principle of the nation or for conservatives. No evidence of it in the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution.
Granted, as a general rule, when government expands, individual liberty is impeded and infringed upon. But expansion, or non-expansion, of government, is not the only definer of liberty. Nor is it the barometer to measure conviction to all of our founding principles. If that were the case, all conservatives would be anarchists, for they prefer no government. And since the Index only measures "growth of government," by that definition, absence of government, anarchism, would be the ideal. If "life, liberty, and property, are the core principles of conservatism (classical-liberalism) the Index is NOT a canon for conservative orthodoxy.
One simple example can illustrate the deficiency of the “expansion of government” basis for measuring conservatism. Based on that model, a statute that limits abortions would of necessity, be classified as an expansion of governmental power, and a restriction of personal liberty. But to conservatives who are constitutionally oriented, life, and the protection and preservation thereof, as a core value, is preeminent to concerns over expansion of government to protect life. Especially life that is most innocent and vulnerable to the political machinations of a predominately immoral society.
Here’s another simple example from the 2016 legislative docket. H0331 was a bill that sought to regulate the possession, sale, purchase and use of powdered alcohol. The IFF had this bill rated a -2. It seems inconceivable to me that a decision to protect children, and prevent abuse of powdered alcohol by underage kids dumping it into their Pepsi, could be classified by anyone as an ideological issue. Such a preposterous methodology plays directly into the hands of the left who think that “for the children” is their exclusive domain.
We see time and time again through the entire list of bills rated by the IFF where, based on their matrix, “expansion of government” assumes superiority over all other conservative core values. In short, just because a legislator voted against the Index preferences doesn’t mean they’re a “liberal.” It most likely means other core values were at play. Such prioritization of values, as subjective as it can be for individual legislators, is, I believe, impossible to quantify on a measurable index, and is clearly ignored with the “Freedom Index.”
Other firms take an approach based on more broad-based core conservative values, not just “growth of government.” For example, the American Conservative Union (ACU) rates Idaho legislators on a much more broad matrix. As explained by the Chairman, Matt Schlapp, “The Idaho legislators with the strongest scores voted most consistently with the ideals articulated in the US Constitution: limited and transparent government, individual rights, personal responsibility, and a healthy culture.”
But even their index is imperfect, as it only rates a dozen bills for the House and Senate respectively. But their results seem more substantively viable as many of those Republican legislators who were graded “D” and “F” by the Idaho Freedom Foundation Index, were scored “A” and “B” with the ACU.
As much as the IFF would like to tout their Index as the standard by which conservative orthodoxy is legislatively defined, it simply is not. Government growth is only one component, and only one aspect of governance. To place it in a position of preeminence over all other core values only diminishes what it means to be a conservative, based on our classical-liberal founding principles.
And to further illustrate the absurdity of their methodology, any spending increase would have to be considered an expansion of government. In other words, technically, any increase in spending for education, for healthcare, for law enforcement, for infrastructure improvement or expansion, or the mentally ill, would have to be considered an “expansion of government.” What an irresponsible way to govern that would be! No wonder the IFF intentionally doesn’t rate appropriation bills, since it would unmask their libertarian/anarchist agenda as quantified by their illegitimate Index!
Ronald Reagan’s insights provide the proper conservative perspective toward governance. He said, “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work--work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it." That’s clearly at odds with the objectives of the IFF and their Index.
Gratefully, and to the Freedom Foundation’s credit, they seem to acknowledge their indices’ limitations. Their website contains the disclaimer, “The Idaho Freedom Index is not intended to serve as either an express or an implied endorsement or rejection of any candidate for public office. Idaho Freedom Foundation recognizes that there are inherent limitations in judging the qualifications of any legislator on the basis of a selected number of votes, and legislative activities such as performance on committees and constituent services are not reflected in the scores of the Idaho Freedom Index.” Yet still they use it to bully, intimidate, and harass, in spite of their acknowledged deficiencies.
Clearly, the Idaho Freedom Index is not a measurement of how “conservative” legislators are, as it only measures “growth of government.” If that’s all that matters, their index is of value. Otherwise, it’s merely another quantitatively challenged and disingenuous tool with which to browbeat and intimidate legislators. Gratefully, most Idaho legislators have higher values, and don’t kowtow to their rankings.