logo

Conservative clout growing in Idaho House

Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard recently sent out an unusual, but not surprising, post-session newsletter. She made no mention of personal accomplishments, or what has been done for education -- things that serve as a springboard for the next campaign.

Of course, she didn’t have many bragging points from this year’s session. Her most high-profile accomplishment was speculating that women legislators used sexual favors to gain lofty committee appointments. Her crowning achievement, with the help of some friends, was generally making life miserable for House Speaker Scott Bedke, who temporarily removed Scott from her committees, then later brought her back.

Her effectiveness as a legislator is debatable; some conservative-leaning lawmakers are not fond of her or her approaches. But Scott, in her second term, is not about bills and bureaucracy. Her purpose is building power for conservative causes, with the Idaho Freedom Foundation acting as a guiding light.

In respect to power and profile, this year was a dream session for Scott. The conservative base is growing, especially in the House, and Scott is one of the lead players. It’s clear that more legislators these days are paying attention to the Freedom Foundation’s agenda and points that the organization attaches to bills – turning the House into a political version of Scrabble. One can get a boatload of points by playing the “Q” and “Z” in strategic places.

Last year, Scott and Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg were the lead players on the conservative side, and largely ignored. That’s not the case now.

“We started three years ago with a few liberty legislators willing to speak out and stand up for citizens’ freedoms on the House floor,” Scott said. “By the first week of the 2017 session, that number had tripled. These liberty legislators have shown they are more concerned about the citizens they represent than pleasing leadership, their peers or getting re-elected.”

Last year, only a few House members earned “A” ratings on IFF’s “freedom index.” This year, seven other House members joined Scott and Nate with near-perfect scores (95 percent or higher) – Bryan Zollinger of Idaho Falls, Karey Hanks of St. Anthony, Steve Harris of Meridian, Thyra Stevenson of Lewiston, Dorothy Moon of Stanley, Priscilla Giddings of White Bird and Christy Zito of Mountain Home. Ron Mendive of Coeur d’Alene, Don Cheatham of Post Falls and Greg Chaney of Caldwell were among six others who received scores at 90 percent or above.

On the Senate side, which generally is more moderate than the House, Bob Nonini of Coeur d’Alene, Dan Foreman of Moscow and Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens were the only three scoring higher than 90 percent.

Wayne Hoffman, the Freedom Foundation’s director who last year lambasted legislators overall for being too liberal, was proud of this year’s scorecard. “These are the heroes who helped steer into law bills that protect taxpayers and entrepreneurs as well as keep lobbying organizations from joining the state pension system,” he said. “They’re also the legislators who championed bills – ultimately vetoed by the governor – to eliminate the tax on groceries, stop civil asset forfeiture abuse and eliminate unnecessary regulation of the cosmetology industry.”

Look for Scott and her friends to turn up the volume more next year. That means making sure that conservative-based legislation gets a fair hearing and that committee chairs don’t arbitrarily toss those bills in their desk drawers. They probably won’t hesitate to clog up the process from time to time by having lengthy bills read in full on the House floor.

But their efforts won’t stop there, with a governor’s race coming up. Hoffman has given notice that the IFF will be paying close attention to that election, and it’s a good bet that House conservatives will be making plenty of noise. That could be a blessing or a curse for former Sen. Russ Fulcher or Congressman Raul Labrador (assuming he runs), depending on who shows up to the polls.

Hostilities also could spill over to the House leadership races, depending on the outcome of elections. Speaker Scott Bedke (F+) apparently is too liberal by Freedom Foundation standards. Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane (A-) may be seen as a better fit for the job.

Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.