Usually in an election year, the Idaho Legislature wants to get done with its work quickly so members can start campaigning. They do their business, avoid controversial issues and in general try to minimize conflict that takes up time.
This may not be a typical legislative session.
The week before the legislative session officially started with Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter’s State of the State speech, nine legislators held their own legislative preview for their supporters, which was scheduled to occur before the AP legislative preview held by Legislative leadership. About 240 people attended the event in Meridian. (A number of other legislators were in the audience; it was unclear to what degree they supported the speakers’ points.)
What was particularly interesting about the group of legislators was not necessarily their ideas, most of which have come up before, but their planned methods.
For example, they suggested that people should donate money directly to individual candidates’ political campaigns, rather than to the Republican Party in general.
They also indicated that they would fight more strongly for their own bills to be heard and voted on.
So far this legislative session, the group has been pretty quiet, but the Legislature is mainly just hearing and voting on rules at this point, not bills yet.
There is also an “Idaho Freedom Caucus” with at least some of the same members that is posting similar ideas on Facebook and Twitter.
If just three or four more legislators with this group’s viewpoints could be elected or appointed, different House leadership could be elected that were more in line with their views, speakers at the event said. Leadership positions such as Speaker of the House, Senate President Pro Tem, House and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and House and Senate Majority and Minority Caucus Chair are elected by legislators every two years and when positions become vacant, such as this year when Sen. Bart Davis became U.S. Attorney, leaving a vacancy as Senate Majority Leader. At least seven House seats will be open in this year’s election cycle.
Members of the group have been known in the past to accuse women legislators of trading sexual favors to have their bills heard and otherwise get ahead in leadership, to say that leadership was bugging them with hidden microphones, to insist that the entire text of bills be read out loud, and to vote no on appropriations bills and other bills that needed to be passed before the Legislature could go home for the session. For example, in 2015 some members of the group in a House committee voted down one bill, which meant that the Legislature had to be called back for a special session to deal with the situation.
One legislator speaking at this year’s event said that more than 90 percent of Idahoans lived in the rural areas. This is not actually true; in fact, the majority of Idahoans live in five urban counties, including Ada and Canyon. Other claims that came up was that leadership had deliberately placed them in separate committees so they would be outvoted, that committees would be reorganized this year to separate them further, and that many legislators were “Republican in name only” and actually voted in ways that supported Democrat ideals.
In addition to positioning themselves for running in the May primary, legislators may also be forming alliances in preparation for leadership battles next year, as a number of committee chairs and other legislative leaders are either running for other offices or retiring. Next year’s legislative session could look very different — assuming they make it through this one.