The 2024 Idaho GOP primary is getting crazy, as we all knew it would. You have surely seen the harsh rhetoric, misleading texts, mailers, and billboards, and even a trench fight for precinct committeeman races throughout the state. In-state PACs are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for or against various candidates, the Gem State Conservatives aimed to raise $2 million to win enough PC races to gain control of the state party, and outside organizations are dumping tons of cash into our election.

What is it about the state legislature that makes it worth hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars?

The Legislature doesn’t pay much — less than $20,000 per year plus per diem. However, election to public office can bring benefits such as appointments to boards, commissioners, agencies, or divisions. It can also lead to high paying jobs as lobbyists, since former legislators are well positioned to influence their old colleagues.

I’m not saying everyone, or even most people, who put themselves on the ballot do so for personal gain. It’s one factor to consider, however, especially when so much money is being thrown around.

Another obvious benefit is power. Each state representative has one vote out of 70, while state senators have one vote out of 35. Chamber leaders and committee chairs have even more influence. Many of bills that come through the Legislature involve some financial benefit for someone, whether a tax carve-out, changing regulations, or straight up taxpayer subsidies as with the Launch Grant. For anyone who stands to benefit — or lose from — these bills, it becomes a simple cost/benefit analysis.

Finally, many who run for office as well as those who fund their campaigns are true believers in one thing or another. If you see a gross injustice, a violation of rights, or even a large inefficiency in the way government works, you might be motivated to spend a lot of money righting those wrongs. However, the very fact that government has the ability to affect our lives is perhaps an indictment on the system.

The truth is that government has become so powerful and influential that if citizens, taxpayers, and families don’t exercise their right to influence it then it will surely run roughshod over them. The “forgotten man” is forgotten for a reason — while the wealthy invest in the political system, and the poor are dependent upon government benefits, the average taxpayer is too busy working, raising a family, and enjoying his remaining leisure time to worry about politics. Over the last decade or two, and especially since the Covid lockdowns, regular people have been waking up to the necessity of making their voices heard.

Even so, the rhetorical bullets flying during this primary season have been thick and intense. They have also been indiscriminate as well. Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), whose work I’ve appreciated in the past, has been attacking dozens of incumbent legislators with seemingly nonsensical mailers. They made a major error in a mailer to district 30 last month, attacking Sen. Julie VanOrden and Reps. David Cannon and Julianne Young regarding protecting children from harmful materials:

First, Julianne Young is one of the most stalwart defenders of children and families in the Idaho Legislature. Thirty seconds of research would have made this clear. Calling her the “Boise swamp” and saying she’s responsible for “rotting our kids’ brains with Leftist indoctrination” is absurd.

It gets worse, though. The mailer specifically refers to House Bill 314 from the 2023 session, which was the library bill that Gov. Brad Little vetoed. Contrary to the mailer’s claims, all three district 30 lawmakers voted for H314. Sen. VanOrden voted against H710, the most recent library bill which was signed by the governor, but both Cannon and Young voted for that as well.

The mailer also refers to Senate Bill 1399, which was an appropriations bill for Idaho Public TV. VanOrden and Cannon voted in favor of the bill, but Julianne Young voted against it.

I’m not saying that out-of-state organizations shouldn’t be allowed to campaign in Idaho. All sides do it, and I don’t support any restrictions on speech or spending. However, it’s one thing for out-of-state organizations to weigh in on our primary election, but it’s quite another for them to get things so wrong.

Mailers from the American Federation for Children (AFC) have also been perplexing. AFC is a national school choice organization of which Corey DeAngelis is its most prominent spokesman. As with YAL, I generally agree with what the AFC is doing. They were big supporters of House Bill 447, a school choice tax credit bill that was defeated in committee this year when a minority of Republicans joined with the Democrats to kill it.

It makes sense, then, that AFC would spend money attacking the lawmakers who voted against H447 while supporting those who voted for it. So far, so good. Why, then, did AFC send mailers to voters in district 20 supporting Sen. Chuck Winder?

Winder did not vote on H447 one way or another, obviously, but last year he debated against Senate Bill 1038, which would have created education savings accounts allowing parents to take advantage of tax money for alternative educational choices. It seems odd that AFC would support someone who has taken an explicit position against their own goals, until you look at it from a different perspective. Is AFC trying to curry favor with the Senate President Pro Tempore, hoping that he will support their bill next year? If that’s the case, it makes sense from a purely strategic perspective, but it is nevertheless dishonest.

Does AFC truly believe that Chuck Winder is strong on school choice than Josh Keyser? AFC is even jumping lanes, sending mailers which say Winder supports strong border security:

What is Chuck Winder’s position on border security? Well, he voted in favor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 107 in 2021, which would have created a committee to evaluate giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. Last year, he debated in favor of Senate Joint Memorial 101, which explicitly called for amnesty for illegals working in Idaho. During that debate, he said Idaho needs foreign workers because white people don’t want to shovel manure.

Does that line up with AFC’s narrative?

Perhaps the biggest flashpoint of this primary election is over House Speaker Mike Moyle. Moyle has been in the Legislature for 26 years, by far the longest tenure of anyone currently serving. After several years as House Majority Leader, he was elected Speaker at the start of the 2023 session.

He was challenged in 2022 by a young Canyon County activist named Rachel Hazelip, who did reasonably well in a year that saw many incumbents go down in defeat. Hazelip is back for a rematch this year, supported by many Treasure Valley conservatives.

Arguments in favor of Mike Moyle include his willingness as Speaker to work with conservative representatives and the way in which he held the line on the new budget process, which seemed doomed after the Groundhog Day Massacre. Arguments against his reelection include his 13 terms, his middling scores on the Freedom Index, and the expansion of government and increase in spending during his tenure.

This campaign has ignited passionate debate within the conservative movement in Idaho. Prominent conservatives such as Dustin Hurst and Dominic Brandon have come out in favor of Hazelip, while others such as Rep. Heather Scott and Attorney General Raúl Labrador are supporting Moyle.

I’m not looking to dive into the substance of the debate here, rather I want to focus the way in which this race has attracted out of state attention. As YAL began its campaign against Moyle, seven lawmakers who are part of YAL’s Hazlitt Coalition wrote a letter in support of the Speaker, who posted it in a public Facebook group:

Additionally, a DC group called Retire Career Politicians (RCP) created a website attacking Moyle, calling him the swamp, a monarch, and a puppet of special interests.

According to Kevin Richert at Idaho Education News, RCP has spent $76,000 on the Moyle race thus far, however the organization has not filed any campaign finance reports with the Idaho Secretary of State. Richert also reported that the Secretary of State’s office has informed RCP that it needs to begin reporting by the end of the day Tuesday or be in violation of Idaho law.

North Idaho conservative Lauren Walker recently dug deeper into RCP and found some surprising connections. The treasurer and designated agent for RCP are Christopher Koob and Josh Roesch, respectively. Koob is a longtime operative who worked for Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2000, while Roesch managed several Democratic campaigns on the East Coast over the last five years.

It’s one thing for Idaho conservatives to support a conservative challenger in district 10, but finding yourself on the same side as DC Democrats should raise some questions. Conversely, the fact that Rep. Scott and others who support Speaker Moyle find themselves on the same side as IACI and establishment activists should also raise questions. It’s a very mixed up world right now, and the shotgun blasts coming from out of state aren’t helping matters.

To sum up, we have YAL completely missing the mark on good lawmakers, AFC currying favor with leadership instead of following its principles, and a group of DC Democrats joining forces with Idaho conservatives to defeat the Speaker of the House.

Why is this campaign season so intense, so expensive, so passionate? Because it’s for all the marbles. The decisions your Legislature makes in the next two years will have increasingly personal consequences, especially as our national government sinks ever deeper into oblivion. Whether it’s on issues regarding water supply, education, government spending, or the moral fabric of our culture, it’s important that you find the signal amidst the noise. Do your due diligence as an informed voter, encourage your likeminded friends and neighbors to vote as well, and let’s make a difference in Idaho.

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