BOISE — Under the Idaho Constitution, only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature — but the Idaho Freedom Foundation and an unregistered political action committee are calling one for Tuesday morning aimed at overturning the governor’s executive orders on the coronavirus pandemic, and roughly a dozen far-right House Republicans reportedly plan to participate.
Ammon Bundy says a group of his armed supporters will provide “crowd control” for the event, set to kick off at 9 a.m. at the state Capitol.
“We’re going to make sure that legislators don’t have any trouble and everybody is good and peaceful,” he said, adding that Idaho State Police likely will be there as well. Asked why additional security is needed if ISP will be present, he said, “What if they put their knee on someone’s neck? Who’s going to stop them?”
ISP Chief Kedrick Wills didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Asked if an armed takeover of the state Capitol was possible, Bundy, who led the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016 but was acquitted of all charges related to the 41-day occupation, said, “I sure hope it doesn’t have to go to that level.”
No senators are planning to participate, and the Senate GOP leadership sent a memo out to all Republican senators dated June 6, signed by all four of its leadership members, saying the proposed “special session” is both illegal and unconstitutional.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation, whose president, Wayne Hoffman, didn’t respond to a reporter’s inquiries on Monday, commissioned a legal opinion by two Arizona attorneys that was issued June 11, theorizing that a combination of Cold War-era state laws about the continuity of Idaho’s state government after a nuclear attack and viewing the COVID-19 pandemic as an “enemy attack” on Idaho by China justify legislators calling themselves into a special session — and ignoring the Idaho Constitution’s requirements for a quorum and other rules for legislative sessions.
Bruce Skaug, former Nampa City Council president and a personal injury attorney, was the Idaho attorney who consulted with the two Arizona lawyers. He’s also currently running for the Legislature.
Skaug said he found the legal arguments “plausible,” and he supports the idea of a special session. “But we do not need armed people showing up at the Capitol,” he said. “I had not heard anything about that happening.”
In a Facebook video, Bundy called for crowds to turn out at the Capitol starting at 8 a.m. “You need to take the day off,” he told supporters in the video. “We’re going to try to get in the building and get the legislators in there so they can hold their session in the building.”
“We want 500, 600, 1,000, 2,000, we want that many people there,” Bundy said. “This is something that will affect Idaho and will transpire all throughout the country.”
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, has been touting the self-called special session idea in legislative newsletters, and has even espoused using such a session to impeach the governor.
An unregistered PAC called Freedom Man, which endorsed candidates in every contested legislative race in the May primary and has been sending extensive mailings to all Idaho legislators, issued the call for the special session and has been urging lawmakers to attend.
“When they send us letters, they come in these great big, blue envelopes,” said House GOP Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett. “Some of the comments are fairly threatening in nature, not threatening like physically threatening, just, ‘Understand if you don’t do your constitutional duty, we’re going to tell all your constituents.’”
“This isn’t a caucus function, this isn’t a GOP function,” said Blanksma. “And so the details that I have are limited in nature.”
She said the House GOP caucus convened on June 11 in the Capitol cafeteria for a closed-door caucus on “multiple topics,” but the meeting was “not particularly focused on this thing that some special-interest group is promoting.”
Freedom Man PAC’s spokesman, former legislative candidate and Bundy associate Diego Rodriguez, didn’t respond to a reporter’s calls and emails seeking comment.
Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said the Idaho attorney general is investigating a complaint that the PAC has been violating Idaho’s Sunshine Law by failing to register or report its campaign fundraising and expenditures. Both Sens. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, and the Idaho Press contacted Denney’s office about the unregistered PAC, prompting the investigation.
Bundy told the Idaho Press, “We have no intention of registering. We have no intention whatsoever.”
“We presented this to all the legislators, we tried to go through the proper process,” Bundy said Monday. “And many of ‘em agree with the danger that we were in, well, I should say several, I wouldn’t say many. And so we hope to have 15, 20, maybe 30 legislators there. That would be wonderful.”
“It’s an emergency session, a special session, they don’t have to have a normal quorum in the House or the Senate. So those who do not show up tomorrow basically lose power to vote,” he said. However, he said, “The Senate and the House both have to pass it, even if they’re in small numbers.” If senators don’t show up, he said, “we will … do some type of coercing a little bit legally to get the Senate to come together and at least vote on it, yes or no.” That likely would involve going to court, Bundy said.
Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, said he plans to attend the Tuesday session at the Capitol. He said of Freedom Man PAC, “That wasn’t them who started it. We had the idea in our head before they came along.”
“Some of us legislators had the idea,” Christensen said. “I do know that Wayne Hoffman at the Freedom Foundation, he put it out there as an idea at first, so quite a few of us talked to Wayne about it. So we decided to go ahead and do it.”
It was IFF that commissioned the legal opinion from the Arizona attorneys to support the move, according to both Christensen and Skaug; the opinion is posted on the IFF’s website under “Research.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, “They’re going to try and say they’re not involved in this, but this was their idea to begin with, that … we were under attack. … But there hasn’t been an attack, there hasn’t been mass casualties and all the elected officials that were elected are still around. I mean, this is a real stretch on their part.”
“I think they’re just all frustrated with the whole process that’s gone on, so this is their way to kind of act it out,” he said.
The Freedom Foundation has been engaged in a “Disobey Idaho” campaign to protest and actively encourage resistance to the governor’s emergency orders related to the coronavirus pandemic. After an activist was arrested during a protest at a closed playground in Meridian after refusing to leave and demanding to be arrested, IFF briefly posted the arresting officer’s name and photo online, prompting Bundy and his supporters to stage a protest at the officer’s home.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office issued a legal opinion on June 12, concluding, “The authority to call the Legislature into special session is reserved to the Idaho governor.”
“In Idaho, the Legislature is without any authority to call itself into a special session,” said the six-page opinion authored by Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane.
A separate, 17-page legal opinion from attorney Bill Myers of Holland & Hart, who represents the Legislature independently of the Attorney General’s office, reached the same conclusion. That June 8 opinion concluded, “This call for a special session is not supported by facts or law and, if it proceeds, could inject confusion among the citizenry at best and promote anarchy at worst in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It added, “A special session on June 23rd would be illegal.”
A 53-page legal analysis by conservative Coeur d’Alene attorney Art Macomber reached the same conclusion.
In the Senate GOP’s June 6 memo, the GOP leaders wrote, “You likely have already been contacted by a political action committee called ‘Freedom Man.’ It is a PAC established by supporters of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. The purpose of the PAC is to raise funding for their push to force members of the Idaho Legislature to attend a special session on the 23rd of June. The Lieutenant Governor has said publicly that she will be there to preside over the Idaho Senate.”
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin told the Idaho Press Monday, "If the Senate were to convene, it would be my constitutional duty to preside."
McGeachin has sharply criticized Gov. Brad Little’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic; the two didn’t speak for three weeks in the midst of the statewide stay-home order and extreme emergency declaration that Little issued March 25 and lifted April 30.
Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, an attorney, told the Idaho Press on Monday, “Of all the legal mechanisms I know of that would bring about a special session, none of those have been triggered. … Certainly a political action committee has no legal authority to call a legislative session.”
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said Freedomman.org inaccurately listed her on its website as one of the lawmakers planning to participate. “I did not RSVP,” she said Monday.
Reps. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton; Judy Boyle, R-Midvale; Steven Harris, R-Meridian; and Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, also were listed, along with several other House Republicans; none of the four responded to a reporter’s inquiries on Monday about whether they planned to participate.
Bundy, in his Facebook video, accused Little of turning Idaho into a dictatorship. “There’s no question about the state of Idaho being under a dictator,” he said. He also noted the $1.25 billion in federal aid Idaho has received under the CARES Act, saying, “It’s obvious that Gov. Little declared the state of emergency in order to get the federal money. It had nothing to do with the pandemic — we had literally one case in Idaho.”
He also referred to the federal aid, whose allocation has been overseen by a committee that includes state and local officials, McGeachin, business representatives and legislators, as a “slush fund” for the governor.
When asked Monday about the current coronavirus restrictions in the state, which are mostly in Stage 4 of reopening, allowing all Idaho businesses to open, Bundy said, “He has said, ‘If we do this, if the citizens of Idaho are really good and do exactly what I tell ‘em to do, then I will lift this and I will lift that, and I will ease this and ease that.’ Well, that’s not freedom.”
“The legislators are supposed to assemble and again restore the republic, restore power back to the people,” Bundy said.
Little said Monday he knows there are "some people trying to show up tomorrow" at the Capitol, but he's scheduled to be in the Magic Valley on Tuesday.
"I don't know anything about it," he said. "I guess when I come back Wednesday, I'll find out what happened."
Blanksma said the Capitol is open “like it always is,” and legislators have access to the House floor if they choose to gather there.
Christensen said, “We have our key cards to get in the building as legislators, so if it’s locked, we’ll get in that way, do our thing and leave.”
He said, “We wanted to have some say in all this coronavirus situation. That’s the problem. … We haven’t been involved at all. We have a weekly conference call, but we’re being told what’s going on, we don’t have a say in what’s going on.”
Christensen said, “We want to curtail some of these orders, end the state of emergency, and lift restrictions and move forward with our lives.”
Christensen said he’ll carry his concealed firearm to the Tuesday session as he always does to legislative meetings. “I don’t see any need for outside security. I’m comfortable with my own weapon and my training and my capability to protect myself and people around me,” he said.
He acknowledged questions about the effectiveness of anything the session passes, and said there are questions about whether or not lawmakers need a quorum. A quorum constitutes a majority of the House and Senate. The House has 70 members; the Senate, 35.
“I think we need a quorum, but then people say we don’t need a quorum. I’ll have to do some more research on that,” Christensen said. “If we do pass something, then it’ll be up to the Senate to move or not. … If they want to sit on it, that’s up to them. We wash our hands and say we tried.”
That’d at least send a message, he said. “We’ll tell our constituents we tried.”