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Save our Senate

Last week CNN, ABC News, and the New York Times all carried news about Idaho politics. After all, our legislature is the first to mimic a controversial Texas law and let family members benefit financially from a woman’s abortion. (The intended consequence may be to stop abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, but it does guarantee $20,000 per family member suing if such an abortion does occur.)

It’s the most embarrassing Idaho story to hit the national news since–well, since last month when Lt. Gov. McGeachin spoke remotely at a white-supremicist rally.

But Idaho’s reputation could be worse–the Senate could have failed to stop House bills that would have prevented Idaho troops stationed overseas from voting, allowed private armed militias to parade our streets, or jailed librarians if 17-year-olds checked out books with LGBT characters.

Scores from the Idaho Freedom Foundation suggest a wide difference in the philosophy of Idaho’s representatives and senators. To score well with the IFF, one must be against any form of government regulation and against using government funds for services–like schools, insurance, water, and roads–that might compete with private businesses.

During the 2021 legislative session, 41 House members (59%) received IFF scores over 60 while only eight members (23%) of the Senate did. Overall, IFF scores slipped this year, but the divide is still evident. So far in 2022, 35 House members (50%), but only four Senators (11.5%), score over 60.

A few months ago, I worried mainly about the extremist majority in the House. Then, thanks to a friend, I realized that the Senate’s success in killing House bills may have made it the prime target for the far right.

We can’t take the Senate for granted. Reapportionment has left us with a number of Senate seats without incumbents vying for re-election, and extremist challengers threaten many others.

District after district has four or five candidates vying for a single Senate position. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to check the political leaning of someone who's never served in office. We have to wait for candidates to post websites before learning how serious the Republican extremists' challenges to moderates are.

But the eight current House members running for Senate seats this May do have voting records.

Two, Linda Wright Hartgen of Twin Falls and Laurie Lickley of Jerome have IFF lifetime scores below 50; it’s unlikely they’re part of an extremist takeover.

But two others–Doug Okuniewicz of Hayden and Tammy Nichols of Middleton– have IFF lifetime scores in the 90s. Lifetime scores of the other four–Codi Galloway of Boise, Ben Adams of Nampa, Greg Chaney of Caldwell, and Gary Gestrin of Donnelly–range from 70 to 82.

In 2021 all six of these representatives voted to have the state pay for private lawyers rather than have agencies use the attorney general’s office, to eliminate August elections for school levies and bonds, and to allow school faculty and staff to carry guns without permission once they have notified their supervisors.

Would six votes in the Senate have made a difference? We will never know. All three bills died in Sen. Patti Lodge’s Senate State Affairs Committee. (Nobody is in a better position to stand up to the IFF than a 22-year incumbent who is planning to retire.)

If you’re voting in a Republican primary this year, you will see a lot of contested races. Please research the candidates to be your state senator closely. Talk over your impressions with friends.

This year’s Senate managed to kill five House bills that would have restricted voting rights. We need a reality check for the IFF sycophants in the House.

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