Sen. Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene has been referred to in a variety of ways during her political life and time as a community activist. But it’s a safe bet that no one in the Lake City has accused her of being a “liberal.”
The “liberal” tag certainly didn’t fit during the days that she was challenging City Hall, firing away at the urban renewal district and paving the way for conservatives to win local elections. And her sponsorship this year of the Fairness for Women in Sports Act, which bans transgender athletes from participating in competitive sports, was hated by liberals everywhere.
Yet, according to the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s “freedom index,” Souza gets a big fat “F” on the organization’s conservative scale, along with all Democrats. So, in the eyes of Wayne Hoffman and his freedom foundation, Souza must be a RINO (Oddly, the IFF didn’t give a grade on the sports bill, which was praised by social conservatives).
She’s not alone. Thirty-one other Republicans received failing grades for the 2020 session. The list includes Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder of Boise, who appears on his way to becoming the next Senate pro tem, and first-term Rep. Laurie Lickley of Jerome, who resisted joining the so-called House Liberty Caucus. Not surprisingly, the three Republicans take issue with the IFF and its rating system.
“I think my votes and my lifetime in the agriculture and the natural resource industry puts me in the conservative nature of the Magic Valley,” Lickley said. “I don’t support any specific special interest group, and I certainly put (the IFF) in that category.”
Winder says the IFF is “a long way” from where it started almost a decade ago. “They were going to be a conservative think tank, provide information and be helpful to conservative causes,” Winder said. “What they turned out to be was a political organization trying to espouse libertarian political values at the expense of the Republican Party and the expense of mainline, Reagan-like, conservative Republicans.”
The libertarian movement is not confined to Hoffman’s group. The state Republican Party, headed by former Congressman Raul Labrador, lists two major goals for the party – to re-elect President Trump, and elect conservatives to the statehouse. As Labrador has said for years, not all Republicans are conservative.
Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls, who holds leadership positions with the state GOP and freedom foundation, dismisses criticisms about the freedom index. Critical comments, he stated in a recent commentary, “often are made by liberals masquerading as Republicans, hoping that Republican voters will discount the (freedom index). The (index) principles used to score how legislators vote are closely aligned with the Idaho Republican Party Platform.” Smith’s full commentary can be viewed online.
Souza says libertarians are making their mark in the wrong way for the GOP. “Libertarians believe in no government, or as little government as possible. Republicans – and I am a conservative Republican – believe there is a role for government. We want government to be as limited as possible, and with as few regulations as possible, but government still has a role.”
Legislators who use the IFF as their guiding light during the session are shortchanging their constituents, Souza says. “I listen carefully to testimony in committee hearings and debates on the floor before I make my decisions. If any of us in the Legislature gives our power to vote, or influence on our vote to an outside source, then I don’t think we are doing our jobs for our districts and our constituents.”
Some of the actions in which legislators were marked down heavily, at least on the surface, seem to have little to do with conservative or liberal politics.
As an example, the IFF opposed a measure that prohibited collection agencies from using excessive force in the collection of medical bills. “The victims of this bill are those can’t stand up for themselves,” Souza says. “All it does is make the process transparent, so people have a chance to pay their medical bills in a reasonable amount of time, and with reasonable notice.”
The IFF also opposed requiring job applicants to disclose on a checkoff box if they have been convicted of a felony. “As a business owner, we have a right to know who we are hiring and their backgrounds. It’s up to us if we want to give people a second chance – and sometimes we do,” Souza says.
Hmmm … she’s talking about business owners making decisions, without government interference. Good conservatives, such as Hoffman and Smith, might think about adopting that concept.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org