There is Nothing Conservative About “Gem State Conservatives”

As you well know, Dorothy Moon’s acceptance speech upon being elected chair of the Idaho GOP was still echoing off the walls in Twin Falls when the former leadership began plotting their return to power.

The vehicle for their attempt to reconquer the Republican Party this year is an organization called Gem State Conservatives. I wrote about this group last December:

Just a few days ago, former state chairman Tom Luna filed articles of incorporation for a new political nonprofit along with fellow former state chair Trent Clark and political activist Ashley Brittain. Gem State Conservatives appears to be the successor group to Clark’s former organization Gem GOP, which drew a legal injunction for using registered trademarks of the Republican Party.

Indeed, Gem GOP was initially created as a political action committee (PAC) by Clark in May of this year. He renamed the PAC to Gem State Conservatives in June, and has apparently been the sole donor to the tune of $14,000. The PAC has made two large expenditures, one to a video production studio and the other to a marketing firm, both based in Boise.

The Gem State Conservatives website features a video by Tom Luna and a series of articles about intraparty conflicts, including one by North Idaho Biden supporter and mask aficionado Christa Hazel as well as several others reposted from left wing platforms such as the Idaho Capital Sun.

Their most recent essay was written jointly by Tom Luna and Trent Clark, with Ashley Brittain listed as press contact. In it, they castigate the Idaho Republican Party for the upcoming caucus, accusing it of disenfranchising military veterans among other groups. December 11, 2023

Now that the caucus is behind us and the race for the primary is on, the people behind Gem State Conservatives have a plan to retake the Idaho GOP from the ground up. It was precinct committeemen and delegates who overwhelmingly ousted former state chairman Tom Luna in favor of Dorothy Moon, so Luna and his friends hope to capture enough PC seats to reverse that defeat.

Last month, Tyler Hurst and Ashley Brittain, Esq. of NS Group Idaho hosted a Zoom call with Tom Luna and others in which they presented a plan to recruit enough PCs to shift the balance of power back in their favor. Some of my friends were invited, perhaps by mistake, but were kicked out when they refused to turn on their cameras. One of them managed to capture nearly fifteen minutes of video from the meeting:

Other attendees of this meeting were former state senator Jeff Agenbroad, who is challenging Sen. Brian Lenney in LD13, Idaho Young Republicans vice chairman Jacob Cluff, former Idaho GOP national committeeman Damond Watkins, Idaho GOP national committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, former state representative Greg Chaney and his wife Sarah, who is running for the House in LD11, and many others of like mind.

Gem State Conservatives wants to raise $2 million to fund a takeover of the Idaho GOP via the PC races in the May primary. They sent out a fundraising letter throughout the state a few weeks ago that was incredibly mendacious, which is par for the course with this crew.

First, it’s ironic that a crew of establishment power brokers aiming to raise $2 million to dump into local PC races is accusing the Idaho GOP of being led by a “dark money lobby firm”.

Second, saying the party is “in lawsuits against its own counties” is brazenly dishonest. The Bingham County GOP sued the state party for daring to enforce the rules, and they lost. Contrast this with the actions of Tom Luna, one of the signatories to the letter, who without any input or approval from his executive board sued the Bonneville County GOP in 2022.

Third, the Gem State Conservatives use leftist rhetoric by accusing the state party of having “exclusionary policies”. The signatories want you to believe that removing the ability for three presidents of private affiliate organizations to vote on the executive board is “exclusionary” and pushes women and young people away from the Republican Party.

Fourth, the line about “science and technology” being characterized as the enemy is on brand, considering that signatory Trent Clark was once Monsanto’s chief lobbyist. This line betrays an outdated view in the Republican Party that science, technology, and industry are unquestionable goods. For the last four years, conservatives who were skeptical of forced masking and an experimental injection were lambasted by the left as science deniers, but the Gem State Conservatives don’t seem to have noticed the sea change in Republican populism.

The signatories accuse the Idaho GOP of disfranchising “tens of thousands of reliable Republican voters” through “the election of unrepresentative local precinct leaders.” This is akin to leftists saying we need to protect “democracy” by removing Donald Trump from the ballot. Precinct committeemen are by definition the most representative of positions, because they are elected by their own neighborhoods. The Gem State Conservatives believe that if these PCs don’t support the old guard establishment, then they are by definition “unrepresentative”. This is also both dishonest and disingenuous.

So who are the signatories to this letter?

Tom Luna:

Tom Luna is the former chairman of the Idaho GOP. He lost by two votes to Raúl Labrador in 2019 then defeated Mark Fuller by a mere twelve votes in 2020. Yet Dorothy Moon crushed Luna with more than 60% of the vote in 2022. Does Tom Luna believe the vote was rigged because the delegates were not “representative” of their actual voters? That would be Stacey Abrams level denial.

Prior to his foray into party politics, Luna served two terms as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I’m told that he started off ideologically conservative, but his time in power seems to have shifted his priorities. His lasting legacy is the establishment of Common Core in Idaho.

Trent Clark:

In addition to lobbying for Monsanto, Trent Clark served as chairman of the Idaho GOP at the turn of the century. Clark also served as chairman of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI). While he claims to be ideologically conservative (going so far as telling me once there is nobody in Idaho further to the right) he has waged constant rhetorical warfare against Dorothy Moon and the current party leadership since the 2022 convention.

Despite fighting against the ranked choice voting initiative, Clark recently admitted that if he is not successful in taking back the party this May he might switch sides and support it:

What do you call someone who would burn down an organization rather than let it be run by his political enemies?

Patti Ann Lodge:

I’m surprised the Gem State Conservatives allowed Patti Ann Lodge to sign their fundraising letter. I rarely use the term RINO, because I recognize there has always been a tension in the Republican Party between moderates and conservatives, but if it applies to anyone it’s Lodge. As a state senator, Lodge was responsible for using her position as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee to bury good legislation, such as 2022’s H666. On her way to retirement, she publicly endorsed Democrat Tom Arkoosh for Attorney General, rather than support the Republican nominee Raúl Labrador.

I wrote at the time that Republicans should reject such disloyalty:

These supposed Republicans are telling the people of Idaho that they are fine with outright socialism, with abortion on demand, with public schools grooming their students, with no transparency or accountability for taxpayer dollars. This is what Lori Otter, Patti Ann Lodge, Jim Jones, Fred Martin, Gary Raney, and Ben Ysursa support. Just as the Republican establishment of 2016 was deathly afraid of Donald Trump’s nationalism, so to do these career politicians fear Raúl Labrador’s plan to put the citizens of Idaho ahead of lobbies and other special interests. October 14, 2022

Yet now we’re supposed to believe that people like Patti Ann Lodge represent the “true” Idaho Republican Party? Give me a break.

Tom Loertscher:

Tom Loertscher was a longtime representative from Bonneville County who was defeated by Chad Christensen in the 2018 primary. Rather than accept the will of the voters, Loertscher mounted a write-in campaign, hoping that Democrats in his district would support him over the conservative Christensen. Governor Butch Otter endorsed this independent campaign, for which he was censured by the Idaho GOP. Christensen crushed Loertscher in the general election:

What do all four of these people have in common? They each claim to represent the “true” will of the Republican voters while actively ignoring and dismissing the actual will of those voters as expressed in election after election. Luna and Clark pretend that Dorothy Moon’s overwhelming victory at the Twin Falls convention was the result of chicanery; Lodge switched to the blue team rather than accept that Republican voters supported a conservative AG candidate; and Loertscher didn’t take no for an answer when Republican voters rejected him in 2018.

Their true colors are there for all to see. I don’t believe that any of these people — not Tom Luna, Trent Clark, Patti Ann Lodge, Tom Loertscher, nor Tyler Hurst or Ashley Brittain — are interested in conservative principles. They do not appear to be seeking power for the purpose of enacting conservative policies, but power only for its own sake. While in power they allowed the Republican Party to drift leftward, and while out of power they have made common cause with leftists against the right. They have spent the past two years viscerally angry that populist conservatives took away what they believed was their private domain.

On their website, the Gem State Conservatives promote the Ronald Reagan quote that “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.” They give themselves far too much credit. In Patti Ann Lodge’s last year in office she scored a paltry 30.3% on the Idaho Freedom Index:

You don’t need to take IFF’s word for it, though. The Institute for Legislative Analysis recently put together an analysis of how our Legislature compares to the Idaho Republican Party Platform. I would guess that the legislators preferred by the so-called Gem State Conservatives rate between 40% and 65%, while they would call those at 80% or higher extremists.

So much for “80% allies”.

I believe that the lockdowns and riots of 2020 awakened a sleeping giant, in America and in Idaho in particular, and filled it with a terrible resolve. Millions of people with conservative principles and traditional values had become numbed and demoralized by a media industrial complex with a far left agenda only to realize in that fateful year how close we are to losing the liberties we have so long taken for granted.

Now that these grassroots populists have awakened, they will not go to sleep anytime soon. Tom Luna and his friends think that they can use money to regain power, but they are unprepared to fight real community activism. All the text messages and anonymous fliers in the world cannot beat a conservative PC candidate knocking on doors and getting to know his neighbors.

The old guard establishment believes power is its birthright and that the repudiation it faced in 2022 was a minor speed bump. Let’s put these fossils back in the ground where they belong and return power to the people of Idaho.

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  1. Poor journalism well below Brian’s standard – (1) GemGOP was a political action committee and web identity formed by an Idaho Republican Party local unit to advocate for the legislature returning a state-run Primary. “It” never received the C&D, but rather the supposed C&D was sent to me, a mere administrator. The party unit chair responded to the RNC that they were in error, that the name was being used by a unit of the party, and that upon termination of the “Return the Primary” campaign the name and ID would be transferred to another Idaho GOP unit with permanent interest in that IP. Minutes of meetings and specific IDSOS guidance supporting this effort were provided to the RNC. No further response has been received. IDSOS record will show that all expenditures from GemGOP PAC were for the specified and authorized purpose. The web IP is now in the possession of another Idaho GOP unit, and the PAC has been re-named and is now focused on the election of uncompromised PCs (in support of the Gem State Conservatives effort)

    1. Trent, why are the PACs changing names and the Idaho GOP units changing so much? Is the money changing hands as much as the GOP units and PACs naming are?

      What are the purposes behind changing names and units so frequently? (Money laundering comes to mind when I hear about name changing and transfers so often, but since your claims are of innocence, can you explain those pieces of information to me on the purpose of it, so I can have an understanding of how these changes are not intended for deception in any way?

  2. (2) “some of my friends were invited, perhaps by mistake, but were kicked out” – demonstrably false as X-traffic was touting “infiltration” even while the strategy meeting was going on. Also, no “invited members” do their own recording as the meetings are recorded and made available to all invitees. This is an example of the “lawless” (as in, know no bounds or limits of propriety) nature of party usurpers (behavior highly inconsistent with conservative “rule of law” values). If anyone were to infiltrate any of the now-famous “super secret meetings” of IFF leadership and Republican politicians, the cries of “foul” would be deafening.

  3. (3) “former” and “old guard” – The position I hold today, Vice-Chair of Region VI, is a position I was “elevated to” four years ago. I have not been voted out, rather I was re-elected for this most recent cycle (SAME AS DOROTHY MOON). I hold the same position I held leaving the 2022 Twin Falls convention. Are the Republicans of my region entitled to representation? If you don’t like what I say, you can run someone against me . . . and if I don’t like what my leadership says, I have every right to run someone against them.

  4. (4) Lawsuits – Bingham filed papers Friday, March 8, in court on the most serious charges pending against the state GOP, claiming the State HQ acted in bad faith and breached its contract of fair dealing. “Did Bingham do everything perfectly?” – was never the pivotal question (Yet that was the “win” the Party’s attorney bragged about.) The real question is “Did the State Office help Bingham be successful? Or did it do everything in its power to exacerbate and erect roadblocks to success?” While I am not party to the lawsuit as a plaintiff or respondent, it sure looks to me like this claim will be a challenge to defend. But, to the point of your story, NO! The lawsuit is not over, and not “WON.” Also, the legal issues involving Bonneville’s pre-primary endorsements are not over yet, either. Those endorsements interfered with Caribou’s primary, clearly creating confusion, and at first glance creating a near 200-vote “undervote.” County GOP chairs are “in discussion” about how Bonneville can avoid that in the future. They already modified their endorsement in last year’s nonpartisan elections to remedy some of the damage caused.

  5. (5) Supporting yourself by maligning the motives of those yet to attack you. Yes . . . this entire article is a “pre-emptive” attack on people who have not yet articulated any argument against you. Not really fair play and certainly inconsistent with the “impugn no man’s motive” edict of reasoned dialogue. To give “balance” to the record: (1) Tom Luna, recognized nationwide as an articulate voice for parents’ choice in education and for “taking on” the teachers’ unions, Republican who unseated the last statewide Democrat in Idaho; (2) Patti Anne Lodge, American Conservative Union Excellence Achievement; Idaho Republican Senator of the Year 2010; Idaho Republican Hall of Fame; Outstanding County Chair; Idaho Outstanding Republican Woman, most successful GOP State Finance Chair in party history; (3) Tom Loertscher, rancher and farmer in rural Bonneville (no liberals exist here), longest serving Chair of the Idaho House State Affairs committee under whom Idaho earned a nationwide reputation as one of America’s most socially conservative states. I am proud to be associated with these great individuals . . . and your disrespect for them will be one of my first cases in point when this campaign begins.

  6. Trent,

    How does it feel to be amongst the biggest dipshits in Idaho politics?



      1. My reputation is fighting old RINOsaurs like you and not backing down even when you threaten every which way you can like the jerk that you are.

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