Who has the ear of legislators at the Statehouse? Not always the voters.
In the last decade and more, the voices listened to more closely has been that of Wayne Hoffman and the organization of which he’s president, the Idaho Freedom Foundation. It would help to know who’s behind that noble-sounding front, but that’s been a mystery … which may give it some mystique. IFF has tried to position itself as arbiter of what is “conservative”, and while that word has become essentially meaningless in recent years the organization is quite specific about what it approves of.
The IFF gives each legislator a rating on - well, how you define it is up to you, the criteria seem arbitrary - their votes on various bills. Six representatives share a 100 percent rating, ranging to Democratic Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb at 43. Running in her Boise district, she may be disappointed it’s not lower. Some legislators don’t take it very seriously, at least no more than they do ratings from other groups (quite a few have tried their hand at the numbers game over the years). But because the rating has been positioned as a sort of a measure of “conservatism”, and because that word carries such magic dust in Idaho politics, some legislators have worried, rightly or not, that a poor score will hurt them. In other words, might generate an opponent in the primary.
You can see the rankings at idahofreedom.org/freedom-index.
Constituents may want to ask their lawmakers about the IFF ratings this spring after the session ends. Here is why.
A few days ago Hoffman (who was once a newspaper reporter) wrote a column critical of the proposed revisions in the state school funding formula, which defines how the state funds headed to public schools are divided locally. It’s a complex topic; there are pros and cons.
He got extra attention when added: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today. The predictable result has been higher costs, lower performance, and a system that twists itself in knots to prove it’s educating kids when really it’s not.”
So some constituent questions to legislators suggest themselves. Do you agree with Hoffman that there should be no public schools in Idaho? Do you agree that they are not educating students, that any suggestion they do is phony - and if they don’t, should you be campaigning for parents to pull all their kids out of them? Should there be a legal requirement, as is now the case, that Idaho students must be educated until age 16? If you want public schools replaced, what would you replace them with? (Private schools have operated in Idaho for generations, but parents overwhelmingly have long taken the public option.) Should Idaho’s constitution, which since statehood has required a uniform and thorough system of public schools, be amended to drop that requirement? Should students be educated at all?
The implications of Hoffman’s philosophical statement are broader than even that, because if the schools, which the constitution declares to be the state’s top priority, are a “virulent form of socialism” then you’d have to conclude that nearly everything else the state does, or local governments do, is as well. If something socialistic - something we do together - is bad, well then. Should the prisons be privatized? (We’ve seen how well the recent efforts in that direction turned out.) Why not the courts? (Ponder the dispensing of justice under a for-profit system.) Should the state parks be sold off? Should agricultural research be ended? Should the health districts be turned into for-profit clinics not responsible for helping protect public health? Should our roads be (as some were in territorial days) privately-operated toll roads? In essence, should we run through the state budget and zero everything out, and leave it for someone to try to make a profit from?
Some of this may sound like unwarranted snark. But remember that “socialism” has, in the hands of “free-market” absolutists, been expanded to include nearly everything done by the public - which is to say, done through our government. Days before, Hoffman was busy attaching the S-label to Medicaid as well; his group just failed at the Idaho Supreme Court in an effort to overturn the Medicaid expansion which Idaho voters approved three months ago. There is a presumption here, usually unspoken but just under the surface, that everything we need to have done can be done better as a for-profit enterprise.
So, a constituent question for legislators: Do you believe that? Follow up question: What do you think the voters of Idaho believe? One more: What was your rating on the IFF index?