‘Liberty-minded’ candidate gets GOP bid in 2C

CALDWELL — The libertarian-leaning Idaho Freedom Caucus lost three members to primary challengers in the May primary election, but the group’s founders are optimistic about possibly picking up two new voices, including one in Canyon County.

“Overall, we had a net gain of three or four liberty-minded legislators,” said state Rep. Bryan Zollinger, an Idaho Falls Republican who co-chairs the Freedom Caucus. “I think the election went really well because of that.”

The caucus is a year-old group of Idaho lawmakers who have pushed back against Republican majority leadership. Members have claimed that leadership silences its legislative efforts by not giving its members’ bills hearings. The caucus sometimes takes positions conflicting with those of fellow Republican lawmakers, such as legalizing medicinal CBD oil.

The three members the caucus lost in last week’s primaries were Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony; Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg; and Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls.

‘I am a liberty lover’

Among those believing all bills aren’t being given their fair share is District 11 House seat B GOP nominee Tammy Nichols of Caldwell. She feels public involvement in the Legislature is stifled when citizen-driven efforts are not heard.

“I believe that they should be heard, so I just want to help to support that and to give that avenue to the citizens of Idaho to use as an outlet and have them be part of that process,” she said.

Nichols was described by Zollinger as a “liberty-minded” candidate, along with John Green, who picked up the GOP nomination for District 2 Seat B in north Idaho.

Nichols won a crowded five-way primary to replace a legislative seat left vacant by state Rep. Christy Perry, who made an unsuccessful bid for Congress. Nichols won with 38.9 percent of the vote, well over the second place candidate Scott Brock’s 20 percent, according to unofficial results from the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.

Nichols faces tenant and landlord attorney Brian Ertz, a Democrat from Nampa, in the November general election. Since at least 1994, no Democrat has won a general election for a legislative seat in districts 9-13, all at least partly in Canyon County. The Idaho Secretary of State’s online archives date back only as far as 1994 for legislative election results.

The district Green won in also is home to state Rep. Vito Barbieri, a Freedom Caucus member who chairs the House Business Committee. The last time Idaho’s legislative District 2 elected a Democratic lawmaker was in 2008.

Nichols is not a member of the Idaho Freedom Caucus yet, but seems to anticipate joining the group if she wins the November general election.

“I have worked on different levels with the quote, unquote liberty legislators, and a lot of where my basis is streamlines with what they do and what they promote,” she said. “I am a liberty lover, so I think we could probably work together on several things.

Nichols is a precinct committee person for precinct 39 and she runs the citizen watchdog group Idaho Education Watch. She describes her platform as “giving a voice back to the people of District 11 and Canyon County,” with a goal to roll back what she sees as unnecessary laws.

“Every year, there’s always laws going on to the books,” she said. “But I think it would be a good idea to start looking at laws to take off the books, either because they’re unnecessary, or they’re unconstitutional, or they’re laws that don’t really have a purpose in our state.”

Nichols said she would have supported a bill from a liberty legislator, Idaho Falls Rep. Ron Nate, to phase out of federal funding for K-12 education by 2027, which died in the House Ways & Means Committee like most personal bills.

The bill by Nate, one of three “liberty legislators” who lost 2018 primaries, would have only allowed the state to accept a maximum of $300 million of federal education funds in fiscal year 2019, with an additional $40 million weaned off each year until full rejection. Idaho receives about $264 million each year in federal K-12 spending, according to the Idaho Department of Education.

“The more control we give to the federal government, the less control we have over our education system. I think we need to reverse that and keep more control at the local level,” Nichols said. “I did appreciate Rep. Nate’s proposal on that because I do feel we really need to hone that in.”

She also said she served on a panel that created new Idaho K-12 science education standards with reference to climate change that cleared the Legislature this year. However, Nichols doesn’t agree with the rules themselves. She argued the enforcement of state-made content standards undermine local curriculum planning, and don’t let teachers teach.

“Any teacher will tell you that it’s not a good idea,” Nichols said. “I believe teachers know best how to teach their students and what they need. It’s good to have some kind of guideline, but teachers know how to teach, they went to school for that.”

Nichols previously ran unsuccessfully for District 11’s House A seat in 2016, taking second in a five-way primary to current state Rep. Scott Syme.

215 votes shy

The Freedom Caucus came within 215 votes of picking up another “liberty legislator” in the state Senate race for District 11. Zach Brooks, another “liberty-minded” candidate Zollinger noted, narrowly lost to nine-term Sen. Patti Anne Lodge on a 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent vote.

Brooks lost on similarly close margins in the 2016 Republican primary against Lodge, receiving 47.1 percent of the vote to Lodge’s 52.9 percent. That race was decided by a difference of 263 votes.

Brooks said he’d consider running for the seat again in 2020, with ambitious plans to restructure how the state appropriates funds and to vote from what he sees as a liberty standpoint.

One point he took aim at was the structure of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the state’s budget committee that receives input mostly from other lawmakers and agency members, though he acknowledged the changes are difficult to make. The committee’s input is different from most other committees, which hold public hearings for each piece of legislation it considers. Instead, JFAC receives testimony from mostly government agency officials, which Brooks disagrees with.

“JFAC is an extremely efficient system for spending money,” Brooks said in an interview. “It is not a good system if you are concerned about spending increases. … When an agency comes in to request an appropriation, the debate is really over whether it needs 1 million more dollars than it had last year. The debate’s not over whether it needed the money it got last year.”

Lodge, who faces the Caldwell Democrat Edward Savala in the November general election, declined to give an interview on the close race with Brooks.

“The only thing I want to say is I want to thank the people who had faith in me,” she said.

The caucus under the dome

Green and Nichols securing primary nominations means the Freedom Caucus could gain two new members to help offset the three departing.

However, it’s unclear if it can make headway on getting proposals through the Statehouse after a session characterized by hiccups.

Rep. Heather Scott, a north Idaho Freedom Caucus member, successfully pushed a bill to allow certain retired law enforcement officials with special concealed-carry permits to conceal-carry a firearm on school grounds. But other efforts from liberty legislators didn’t fare as well.

Proposals from several liberty legislators, such as Nate’s education bill and state Rep. Dorothy Moon’s bill to legalize CBD oil for medical use, were killed in the legislative process.

As a group, the Freedom Caucus proposed three alternative measures in February in response to prominent legislation introduced by House GOP leadership, but none of its bills gained traction.

Despite that, and a bill to create stronger deadly self-defense protections from a liberty legislator stalling and dying in committee, Zollinger was confident the caucus made decent headway in getting legislation heard.

“The major problem was that we passed them to the Senate, where they’d put them in the drawer and wouldn’t hear it,” he said. “We have to have a conversation with House leadership that they let it pass the House because the Senate would kill it.

“We are all members of the Republican caucus first,” Zollinger said. “If business is going smoothly and our voices are being heard, we as a Freedom Caucus won’t play a vocal role.”

Tammy Nichols

Tammy Nichols

Patti Anne Lodge, incumbent Senate legislative candidate for District 11, speaks during the candidate forum Wednesday night at the Caldwell Police Department.

Ky Tucker/ IPT

Patti Anne Lodge, incumbent Senate legislative candidate for District 11, speaks during the candidate forum Wednesday night at the Caldwell Police Department.

Ky Tucker/ IPT

Zach Brooks

Lisa Jordan – (c)LisasEyeView

Zach Brooks

Lisa Jordan – (c)LisasEyeView

This article provided by NewsEdge.