Senator Abby Lee (R-Fruitland) claims to be a conservative. Yet her voting record suggests otherwise:
When Sen. Lee comes back home to Fruitland to ask for your vote, consider the way she voted while she was in Boise.
Earlier this year, Senator Glenneda Zuiderveld of Twin Falls noticed something fishy about the way in which the Dept. of Health and Welfare (IDHW) was distributing federal grant money. The Idaho Freedom Foundation and its Center for American Education followed up on her suspicions and discovered that IDHW was distributing money that was earmarked for school-aged children to organizations using it for preschool programs instead.
Now this might not seem like the biggest deal, but it demonstrated that IDHW officials believed they were above the law. What else might they be doing that was contrary to the policies of the Legislature? As a state agency, IDHW is subject to oversight from our elected representatives, especially when it comes to spending public money. It certainly appeared that IDHW was ignoring the Legislature and siphoning public money to its friends in the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC).
After discovering the misuse of public funds, Sen. Zuiderveld said, "It's reprehensible how IDHW purposely ignored the representatives of the people taking it upon itself to illegally fund some of these woke pre-K agendas.”
The fact that this grant was being given to an organization, IAEYC, that promotes CRT, queer theory, and other far-left ideologies to children was perhaps why local news media has been so angry over this investigation. These activists and their friends in politics and media seem to believe that they are entitled not only to public money but unfettered access to your children.
Even former Representative Greg Chaney, who returned to practicing law after his Senate primary loss last year, joined a lawsuit against Attorney General Labrador, trying to prevent him from investigating IDHW.
Six months after Sen. Zuiderveld and the Center for American Education called for an investigation, the Legislative Services Office (LSO) released the results of their audit. To call it “damning” would be an understatement. LSO included eight findings of fault with IDHW, including allocating more than the maximum amount to the same organization because they used variations of their name on their applications. LSO also said that IDHW distributed nearly half a million dollars more than the Legislature appropriated for their budget.
Whether IDHW Dave Jeppeson and his team will face any consequences remains to be seen. However, the only reason this investigation happened is because of brave elected lawmakers like Sen. Zuiderveld. Too many in the Legislature are content to look the other way as state bureaucracies go rogue. Take a moment to send Sen. Zuiderveld a note of thanks for doing her job of standing up for the people of Idaho.
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.
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.