When Sen. Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene decided to leave her seat and run for secretary of state, she assumed she’d have generous support from North Idaho – and especially her longtime friends on Kootenai County’s Republican Central Committee.
And why not? Former Lt. Gov. Jack Riggs was the last person from North Idaho to hold a seat in a state constitutional office, and that was 20 years ago. No one from North Idaho has held a seat on the state Land Board.
Souza was hoping to change that, and she seemed to have all the credentials that her hometown folks would want. She served eight terms in the Idaho Senate and probably would have been a lock to win a ninth term if she had run. Before that, she made her mark by aggressively challenging the spending practices and decisions by local government entities. She also backed conservative candidates in local elections.
There was nothing “liberal” about what Souza was doing back in those days, and she’s hardly viewed as a liberal in the Legislature. Except for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, that is. That organization has given Souza failing marks on its “Freedom Index,” aimed at defining conservatism.
Suddenly, Souza was not “Republican enough” for Kootenai County’s central committee. That group endorsed Rep. Dorothy Moon of Stanley, who has based her legislative career on getting near-perfect marks on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s scorecard.
“Overnight, when my name was not chosen for endorsement, they went from being my friends and biggest supporters to not speaking to me,” Souza said.
The Coeur d’Alene senator finished a distant third in a race won by Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane.
Kootenai County wasn’t the only place where Souza received the cold shoulder. Central committees in Bonner, Boundary, Nez Perce and Shoshone counties also backed Moon and other right-wing candidates. She said the Bonneville County central committee invited Souza for a “personal” interview – after endorsing Moon and giving her $5,000.
“They thought I should go all the way to Idaho Falls to interview with them after they had already chosen their candidate,” Souza said. “That was not happening.”
Central Committees shouldn’t be the ones endorsing candidates, she said. “The voters in a Republican primary are supposed to be the vetting process. That’s why we have a primary. Some of the central committees have been taken over by libertarian/anarchists.”
Says Souza, “The Republican Party is the party of Ronald Reagan, where there are differences. But if we agree about 80 percent of the time, then we can work together. Libertarians say we have to agree 100 percent of the time, and you are a terrible person if you don’t.”
And those who don’t agree with the IFF almost down the line are viewed as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Souza has been called that many times in the last year.
As Souza sees it, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has done much to influence people moving to Idaho to escape the liberal policies of other states. “They’re saying that ‘if you don’t vote down this line, then Idaho will end up like California, Oregon.’”
In her conversations with voters and constituents, Souza explains the diversity in Idaho. The citizen’s Legislature is a mix of people representing different cultures, geographic areas and industries. And laws passed affect parts of the state in different ways.
“The Idaho Freedom Foundation doesn’t take any of this into consideration,” Souza says. “Idaho doesn’t work that way.”
Idaho’s GOP will suffer if central committees continue to be taken over by libertarians, or the John Birch Society, she says. “They operate with intimidation and ridicule. They are mean and really dishonest, and yet they call themselves Christians. They are not Christians, I can tell you that.”
Although Souza lost her bid for secretary of state, don’t expect her to disappear from politics. She won’t say what’s next in her immediate future, but she’s not one to sit on the sidelines. As folks from Coeur d’Alene can attest, Souza is a relentless fighter. Knowing her, don’t be surprised to see her making life at least a bit uncomfortable for the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
ctmalloy@outlook. Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com