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May 2023 Primary: Lessons Learned, Future Actions Needed

A majority of West Ada School District (WASD) voters on Tuesday saw through the school district's cynical plan to pass a half-billion-dollar levy. They rejected the proposal with 42.5% in favor and a resounding 57.5% against.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our supporters. Without you, we could not have raised the substantive questions about the district's plan that went unreported in the media. This included spending on a new daycare center for school district employees, as well as capital projects that should have been addressed in a bond, not a levy.

However, there is more work to do, as evidenced by the tactics employed by school districts throughout the state to win passage of their ballot measures.

In West Ada, for example, school officials asked for a half-billion-dollar plant facilities levy because it's easier to pass a plant facilities levy than to win approval for a bond. The levy requires only 55% voter approval, rather than the more common two-thirds required for a bond.

Tighter controls are needed for levy elections

When the Legislature originally adopted plant facilities levies (PFLs) in 1963, they were never intended to be used in lieu of a bond. Lawmakers almost certainly never contemplated a situation like we have in WASD today—a district so large and with so much market value that the limitations of 2/10ths percent of market value would allow for a PFL larger than the entire public education budget from just three decades prior.

That intention was made all the more clear when the law was amended in 2009 to allow school districts to convert PFLs to supplemental levies. These were supposed to be short-term financing with limited expense. WASD's half-billion-dollar levy hardly fits that description. This loophole must be closed.

Stop school districts from violating state law to win passage of levies

There is also the issue of school districts flaunting and, in some cases, openly violating the Public Integrity in Elections Act, which prohibits governmental entities, such as school districts, from using school resources to pass bonds and levies. As has become commonplace, there were numerous examples of school districts violating the law or, at a minimum, the spirit of the law.

For example, WASD was found to likely have violated the law by the Ada County Prosecutor's Office by producing a promotional video in which voters were explicitly told to vote in favor of the levy. This sort of campaigning by public entities was the exact thing the Act was intended to stop.

In Parma, a two-year supplemental levy passed 64-36, but not before the school district toeing the line of electioneering by posting a pop-up message on the district webpage admonishing those who might vote no. Then the district went even further and blatantly violated the law when, on election day, a teacher sent out a district-wide email telling patrons explicitly to vote yes on the levy and saying if they did not, the choir program would be eliminated.

In North Idaho, these tactics were also on full display. In the Coeur d'Alene School District, for example, teachers sent home absentee requests in elementary students' backpacks and declared a financial emergency with a "hit-list" of schools that would close if patrons didn't comply with the demands of the district. These fear and intimidation tactics have no place in school district actions.

But here is the problem—districts don't care if they violate the Act because doing so has no consequences. A slap on the wrist and an instruction to remove the illegal content is hardly a deterrent. Putting teeth in the Act must be a top priority in the next legislative session.

The only real consequence that would catch a school district's attention would be to nullify the results of an election if a district is found to have violated the law. By putting the very outcome of the election on the line, districts will be forced to play by the rules just like everyone else.

End the practice of repeating elections

In addition to nullifying the election results when districts break the law, the practice of rerunning substantially the same levy or bond in repeated elections must end. If patrons say no, that should be the final answer for at least a year. Because districts are not responsible for the cost of administering elections, they have no incentive to stop continually asking voters to approve their latest money grab. This is not a call to return the function of running elections back to school districts; it is a call to end the practice of giving districts repeated chances.

Throughout the interim and into the next legislative session, we will work with our legislative partners to craft these proposals to protect taxpayers. It is clear that the current laws are inadequate, and changes must be made.

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Ignore the legacy media

What you read in most local daily newspapers or see on the daily news isn’t really journalism. It’s leftist propaganda. That’s why a year ago, I decided the Idaho Freedom Foundation would stop answering most questions from Idaho reporters and many national “news” outlets like the LA Times and the Washington Post. Talking to reporters only serves to validate their leftist interpretation of reality.

Coming to this point wasn’t easy, and it’s counter to everything I thought I knew about an industry I had been a part of for decades. From 1987 to 2005, I was a reporter, editor, and producer, writing about the day’s events and helping our audiences make sense of complex issues.

I left journalism at a point in which the demise of journalistic integrity was in play, just before the advent of “fake news.” I watched as news executives became more interested in racial quotas in stories than they were in actual journalism. These executives obsessed over staying relevant, which meant fewer stories about what the city council was doing and more about the latest reality television shows. 

My first jobs out of journalism was as a spokesman for a state government agency and later for a member of Congress. Talking to the press was an essential part of daily life. It was easy to see how journalists, under the strain of newsrooms depleted of staff, no longer had time to really dig into issues but still had to meet the arduous demands of editors and copy desks in order to fill the pages of the newspaper or time in a newscast. 

Deadlines replaced curiosity and depth. The good journalists largely left the profession for careers in marketing and public relations, leaving unskilled hacks who could write a sentence well enough but lacked curiosity or the ability to do real enterprising journalism. 

Oh but what I would give if that were the sum total of the problem with modern American journalism. The era of Trump and COVID-19 turned the few remaining “journalists” into activists. These writers feel it is their job to defend government institutions and programs. When a government sanctified “expert” says something is true, reporters defend the official narrative by dismissing or openly mocking contrarian opinions as “baseless” or “extremist,” words that, heretofore, would never survive a first round of editing. 

COVID-19 exposed the lack of true journalistic integrity in news coverage. There were damn few questions posed of the government officials who shutdown businesses, ordered people to stay home, demanded the use of masks, and endlessly promoted vaccines.  

On top of that, racial quotas in stories no longer satisfied the “woke” American newsroom. Social justice has also become central to the stories you read in the paper or see on TV. Reporters abide by the idea that America is a racist country. Nowhere is this more evident than at National Public Radio, where almost all coverage is about race and gender. More on that in a future article. Even the Associated Press style guide has been rewritten to reinforce wokeness in all stories, instructing journalists to honor a person’s desired pronouns and refrain from talking about pregnant “women,” lest doing so offend transgender men and non-binary people. 

I still get emails and phone calls everyday from reporters. Rarely do they ask questions. Instead, I get a distillation of a story they’ve already written asking for comment. If it is from a reporter or news outlet that we’ve never dealt with before, or one that has truly demonstrated an interest in hearing our side of the story, I’m happy to talk to them. 

But for the rest, meaning the bulk of reporters in my former profession, ignoring the legacy media is the right decision. I’d highly recommend other organizations and individuals in the public spotlight do the same.

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Conservatives came out on top in May 2022 primary elections

I gather from the phone calls and emails I’m getting that people don’t realize what a monumentally successful night conservatives had in Idaho’s primary election on Tuesday. This one was one for the record books, and it could help usher in a new chapter in Idaho’s political history. 

The Idaho Senate, commonly known for the last several years as “the place where conservative legislation goes to die,” will thankfully be a very different place in 2023. As many as a dozen conservative legislators will take their seats in the 35-member chamber following the results of the May Republican Primary. A couple more conservatives could be added depending on the outcome of the November general election. This is a significant development, given that this year, conservatives enjoyed the consistent support of only two members, both of whom are retiring in December. 

Having as many as a dozen rock solid conservatives in such a tiny chamber will mean that those conservatives will find themselves in position to quickly and effectively impact policy. Such an impact starts with the selection of Senate leadership. I suspect that Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, who once called the Idaho Freedom Foundation the “greatest threat to democracy” and made it a habit of blocking House-passed conservative legislation, will find his days in command of the Senate are numbered. Decisions about his future — and that of the rest of Senate leadership — will be made in December. 

For now, it is clear that the Senate’s committees will swing to the right, not only because a number of Senate committee chairmen were defeated in Tuesday’s election, but also because now there’s enough conservative senators to create committees made up a majority bloc on the nine-member policy panels. 

With leftists like Sen. Carl Crabtree and Sen. Jim Woodward defeated and out of the way, does this mean instead of a Senate Education Committee that blocks parental rights legislation and protects union interests, we could have a panel that finally embraces robust education choice policies? Very possible.

It’s equally possible that legislation to prevent mask and vaccine mandates would pass now that Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Martin will be gone. Martin’s defeat and the defeat of leftist senators like Jeff Agenbroad, Crabtree, and Woodward, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee could lead lawmakers to finally restrain spending, starting with the bloated Medicaid budget. 

This shift in the political makeup of the Senate will nicely complement the dynamic of the Idaho House of Representatives, which remains very conservative despite the loss of some top-notch legislators. 

The media will of course fixate on Tuesday’s losses and claim victory. It’s easy to look at disappointing outcomes for conservatives running for Congress, governor, lieutenant governor, and secretary of state and conclude a long string of electoral successes for conservatives has come to an end. Coupled with the loss of such conservative luminaries as Ron Nate, Karey Hanks, Chad Christensen, and Greg Ferch, it’s easy to fabricate a story that the conservative movement reached its zenith in 2020. 

The bigger picture proves something else. The losses in the House are offset by the election of other conservative candidates, almost one-to-one, meaning the net conservative composition of the House will be little changed. And the Senate will go from having two solid conservative senators to a dozen or more. For statewide offices, conservatives lost the lieutenant governor, who effectively has no real power, and they’ve picked up an attorney general, who has a lot of power and influence. 

In short, the May 2022 primary elections will likely produce the most conservative governing this state has ever seen.

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Crabtree can’t hide his Big Government voting record

Sen. Carl Crabtree is now on record calling himself one of the most conservative members of the Idaho Senate and claiming that he follows the Idaho Freedom Foundation and our Freedom Index. While we appreciate the nod acknowledging that the Idaho Freedom Foundation represents conservative positions, we must point out that Senator Crabtree doesn’t have a consistently conservative voting record. He has moved left on policy bills over the course of his six legislative sessions, and he has always supported big spending.

Crabtree’s Freedom Index scores have shown a steady decline over the course of his six sessions. The Senate has lagged behind the House in Freedom Index Scores and has been on a downward trajectory. For his first four sessions, Crabree typically scored in the 80-90% range and for 2021 was 70.7% and last session was 60.6%. While his score is among the higher ones in the Senate, it certainly doesn’t reflect a conservartive voting record. For 2022, 19 House members scored 80% or higher, yet only two Senate members scored 80% or higher. The House has twice as many members as the Senate. 

More concerning is Crabtree’s Spending Index score, which has ranged from 0-21% over the last four years. His spending votes generally are very aligned with the Senate’s Democrats. This is especially important because Crabtree has served on the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee since his first day in office.

When Crabtree started in the Legislature in 2017, Idaho’s all-funds budget appropriation was $7.9 billion for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18). For FY23, the appropriations that Crabtree voted for total $12.9 billion. That’s a 63.3% increase in five years. 

Medicaid serves as one of the big drivers of spending growth. Crabtree voted for the FY18 appropriation of $2.285 billion and for the FY23 appropriation of $4.045 billion, a 77% increase in five years and a staggering compounded annual increase of 12.1%. He voted for every Medicaid budget increase each year.

In 2021, Crabtree voted for Senate Bill 1204, the bill that accepted federal American Rescue Plan Act money. It says, “ARPA funds are borrowed from our grandchildren. To the extent allowable under law, the state should make long-range investments with ARPA funds that will benefit our grandchildren.” 

Notwithstanding the language, Crabtree voted in the 2022 session to use ARPA funds for bonuses with SB1404 and for arts grants with SB1391. Borrowing money from our grandchildren to fund bonuses and arts projects hardly sounds like long-range investments. And it’s certainly not conservative. 

In his remarks to an Adams County Lincoln Day dinner crowd, Crabtree stated that he believes that government should be run like a business, “If you don’t get it done, you don’t get the money.” I guess that Crabtree must believe this largesse is getting something done, because he has voted to dramatically grow state government in his time in the Legislature.

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Idaho Freedom
Idaho Freedom Action (IFA) is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving freedom in the Gem State. Through direct action, IFA supports policies that strengthen free markets, individual liberty and state sovereignty and opposes those that would bring Idaho down a path of socialism. We believe that with the right ideas and leadership, Idaho can serve as the model for the restoration of American ideals.
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