BOISE – Two freshmen representatives looking for a productive way to advance conservative ideals announced the formation of an Idaho House Freedom Caucus on Monday.
Reps. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, and Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, will be co-chairmen of the group. They expect to have at least 10 members initially, but 24 showed up to a late-afternoon informational meeting.
The proposal to create a conservative caucus comes at the tail end of a session that’s been marked by frequent conflicts and procedural disputes between House Republican leaders and a group of far-right lawmakers that includes Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, and Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird.
Kingsley said the Scott-Nate group has some good ideas, but they’ve undermined their own efforts by directly challenging the established leadership hierarchy.
“We feel like the conservative message isn’t getting out,” he said. “Some walls have been built, some barriers. We need to come together as a group to get our message into meaningful bills.”
The caucus is modeled in part on the congressional House Freedom Caucus, which made a name for itself by ousting House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in 2015. The group also played a role in blocking the Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill last week.
“We love what they’re doing in D.C. with their Freedom Caucus,” Kingsley said. “They’re having an impact.”
Zollinger, however, suggested the Idaho House Freedom Caucus will be a kinder, gentler version of its congressional counterpart.
“We aren’t going to be throwing grenades,” he said. “We’re not trying to oust anyone. We’re looking to push conservative ideas through the channels that currently exist.”
The confrontational tactics used by the Scott-Nate group were a major distraction during the session for many lawmakers. They were uncomfortable being asked to “pick sides” and disliked the personal attacks.
“I was disappointed with the problems and bad feelings we had,” said Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, who attended the informational meeting. “I think my side (conservatives) got hurt by it.”
Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, said her concern about forming a new caucus is that it will simply entrench the already existing split within the House Republican caucus.
“I don’t mind doing this, but the main goal should be repairing our Republican caucus,” she said.
Zollinger said the plan is to take input and suggestions over the summer and move forward next session. The intent right now is that it be open to anyone who accepts the Idaho Republican Party platform, although the group may become more selective about membership requirements in the future.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, also attended the informational meeting. He acknowledged the session got off to a rough start, but felt there was a path forward.
“To the extent that we’ve made mistakes as a group, I think we can correct them,” he said. “We have more that unites us than divides us.”
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