Nearly every candidate for the Idaho Legislature will tell you that they are “conservative.” They will tell you that they want to reduce the size of government, lower taxes, cut spending, reduce the burden of regulation and shrink bureaucracy. They will tell you these things when they run the first time and when they ask to be reelected. How do you objectively know if they are lying?
Many of the citizen legislators we send to Boise find the experience transformative. The pressures to conform to the group are enormous. Lobbyists, leadership, special interests and even fellow legislators all try to cajole, persuade, or influence the legislator’s position to align with their own. I had the opportunity to spend a single day as an Idaho senator and I can assure you that the pressures are immediate, constant, and physically palpable. You feel them in your gut.
In this cacophony of pleadings, the voice of the citizen is but a whisper. It is the rare individual who is not steadily pushed off course by the constant forces demanding that the legislator conform to the group.
How should a voter take the measure of this change? How can you or I appreciate the direction and scope of a legislator’s evolution? You would need to evaluate a legislator’s actions, not just their rhetoric because the legislator themselves cannot see their own transformation. Like flying in an airplane with your eyes closed, there is no perception of movement.
If you were to evaluate a legislator’s performance you would need to first analyze the bills they voted on. You would determine if the bill grew or shrank government, if it raised or lowered spending, if it increased the burden of regulation, reduced essential rights, freedoms or restricts information about government activities.
Like judging the performance of an Olympic ice skater, you would score individual components to come up with a total that would represent the relative worth of a particular bill.
Once you’ve performed your analysis on the hundreds of bills considered each legislative session then you would then need to apply that analysis to the 105 legislators so that you would have a comparative rating. This herculean task would need to be repeated every session. Few voters have the time, resources, and dedication to accomplish this job.
Fortunately there is an organization that does it for you. Every session the Idaho Freedom Foundation ranks every significant bill based on 12 published metrics. This gives the bill an aggregate score which is applied to the legislator based on if the legislator voted to pass the bill or not. The legislator then receives a score based on the aggregate of their votes. This score is known as the Freedom Index and has been an invaluable tool for voters for over a decade.
The Freedom index is designed to be as objective as practical. Each of the twelve metrics asks a simple question that has a simple yes or no answer. For example, metric 5 asks “Does it directly or indirectly create or increase any taxes, fees, or other assessment?”
Other metrics ask other questions like “Does it transfer a function of the private sector to the government?” or “Does it increase government redistribution of wealth?” There is no question asking if the bill is “good” or if it serves a special interest or if it is okay just this once. The questions are simple and the answers are Yes or No so that any reasonable person would come to the same answer.
Of course an impartial way to measure the performance of a legislator is a HUGE problem for progressive legislators that only identify as “conservative.” The Freedom Index does not consider a politician’s rhetoric, only how they vote and so it quickly exposes when a politician’s claims fail to match their performance.
Before we had the Freedom Index the most progressive, tax and spend, big government loving, regulation embracing legislator was a Republican from Bonner County. Conservatives in Bonner loved her because they had no idea how she was voting in Boise. Once the Freedom Index exposed the truth the voters replaced her with a genuine conservative.
Actual conservative, liberty loving legislators like the Freedom Index because it proves they are holding fast to their principles. Legislators who ran on a conservative platform but vote for big government HATE the Freedom Index because it measures their true performance. Like the overweight person claiming the bathroom scale is inaccurate, progressive Republicans demonize the Freedom Index as an agent of control when it is really just a tool to expose the truth.
Every tool has its limitations. The Freedom Index cannot compete with the army of obsequious special interest lobbyists who court votes with lavish dinners and effusive praise.
If you are a progressive Republican pretending to be a conservative it would be entirely in character for you to be a harsh critic of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Freedom Index. Not because the criticism is deserved but because the truth is not your friend.
It’s just common sense.
Brent Regan is chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee and chairman of IFF's board of directors.
Note: This article was first published by Brent Regan on February 10, 2023, and republished here with permission.