Available Soon: Request your printed copies of the Idaho Freedom Index mailed to you!
Request Your Copies
Note to Dustin: This is currently only visible to logged in users for testing.
Click Me!
video could not be found

Debunking the Baseless Criticisms of the Idaho Freedom Index

Debunking the Baseless Criticisms of the Idaho Freedom Index

Fred Birnbaum
May 2, 2024

Recently, Robert Gillis, a retired California Law Enforcement Officer, wrote a lengthy letter critical of the role that the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) plays in public policy in Idaho, condemnatory of our influence on legislation and legislators, and scathing of our primary legislative bill rater Parrish Miller. 

Gillis, by his own admission, has only worked with the Legislature for a couple of years. To his credit and ours, he offers a lengthy list of policy items that IFF supports that are “reasonable and rational,” involving “education, protecting children, lower taxes, property rights, critical race theory, the second amendment, more conservative spending, and the advocation of less government involvement in the lives of everyday Idahoans.” That’s a nice list, Robert; we will take it.

Unfortunately, he segues into a lengthy diatribe about IFF being soft on law and order and crime-related policy, which he pins on how we rate bills and who rates the bills, our “bill rater.” Parrish Miller, IFF’s longtime Freedom Index analyst, is not some man behind the curtain. He uses metrics that IFF has long used and can be viewed here. We also have a Spending Index and an Education Index, but those were not the focus of the letter.

Nowhere in his letter does Mr. Gillis attempt to review an actual bill rating and show where it deviates from the metrics. He falsely states that the negative ratings for House Bills 406 and 494 were not “held against” the legislators, meaning that they were not included in the scores because they were politically sensitive bills. For the record, these bills are part of the Freedom Index scores. Perhaps Gillis is confused by the ambiguity that the bills presented to many legislators; e.g., they were aligned with the policy aims of the bills but struggled with the bill language. It is a subtlety lost in his analysis.

Parrish has been the principle bill rater for the Freedom Index since 2020. For the three years before that, several other staff members did the ratings. Regardless, the metrics have remained consistent. IFF has used the same metrics for the Freedom Index for many years. As someone who has been with IFF for 10 years, I can tell you that critics of the Freedom Index and our bill ratings didn’t start with Parrish. Ratings drafted by Parrish or any other rater, which includes this author, are reviewed by other IFF staff members before release. So, no rating is simply the product of one person. We sometimes solicit feedback from outside sources on bills with very technical or legal issues. And some bills, like one on international tax law, we simply didn’t rate because it required a thorough understanding of international tax law. 

As the Index has gained more influence and is used to push back on big government and cronyism, the criticism has grown. You know you are over the target when you get hit with a lot of flak. And by the way, other groups promote legislation and have legislative scorecards, like the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. 

Gillis also mentions another common refrain from critics: that conservative allies vote for bills because they are more worried about their scores than the content of the bills. Not only is this offensive, but it misses why our ratings actually matter. And is Gillis promoting the notion that only our organization takes positions on legislation and follows through? Let me summarize what he is missing about our ratings and their importance. 

  1. On average, over the last four sessions, 621 bills have been introduced, not including resolutions, memorials, and proclamations. Without personal staff to do it for them (like those in the U.S. Congress), legislators have to absorb the entirety of the bill language by themselves or simply trust the sponsors and testimony. Or they consider the reviews of outside organizations, including IFF. Unlike virtually every other public policy organization, IFF is a generalist organization. We are not representing one interest group like farmers, police officers, or big business, but the general interest from our point of view. We rated over 375 bills and resolutions across the policy spectrum, including nearly every subject considered by the legislature in 2024. 
  2. IFF’s bill ratings and the legislative scorecards that are the product of the votes on rated bills are highly correlated with other national conservative rating organizations like the Institute for Legislative Affairs and the American Conservative Union. The importance of our ratings is compounded by the fact that we publish ratings of bills before they are voted on. By contrast, these national ratings are done after the session. 
  3. IFF’s metrics aren’t perfect but are not applied with a subjective animus to law and order, as Gillis alleges. Like many of our critics, Gillis only mentions the ratings he disagrees with while ignoring the ones he agrees with. Who is being subjective? 

Gillis lists 16 bills that he offers as proof of our bias against law and order. Yet Gillis fails to address any of the bill analysis points underlying the ratings and doesn’t even attempt to show that the analyses deviate from our metrics.

I will say that IFF has consistently opposed mandatory minimum (MM) sentencing guidelines, which give a judge absolutely no discretion whatsoever once a person is convicted of a crime for which MMs apply. This stance predates Parrish Miller, by the way. You could argue that our viewpoint is wrong-minded on this matter, but it certainly is a debatable point. MMs for first-degree murder are not the same thing as MMs for first-time solicitation, for example. And MMs could certainly be used against gun owners in some future scenario.

Three of the 16 bills either received no rating or were rated a zero, neutrally. Which is to say that we neither supported nor opposed them. How can Gillis make the claim that legislators were taking “orders” from us on those bills if we took no position on them? Four of the bills had mandatory minimums, and our position has been consistent on that, whether one agrees or disagrees with it. 

That leaves nine bills, about half of which have nothing to do with serious crime, as most of us understand it. Take H432, a bill on unauthorized PERSI pension information disclosure, which we rated negatively because it allowed up to five years imprisonment for a violation. Or H519 on Critical Infrastructure. Or H613 on advertising illegal products, including anything that the federal government says is illegal now and anytime in the future. How about the appropriation bill for the Office of Drug Policy, H678? This is an office that was created relatively recently during the 2007 legislative session and is 90% funded with federal money — increasingly borrowed federal funds. Is it unreasonable to question whether this agency is impactful or just a sinecure for its six staff members? And finally, an example that really leaves me scratching my head: S1428. This was a bill that created a military retirement pension exemption. As a veteran myself, I can’t figure out what this has to do with crime or law and order. Readers can certainly review any of our ratings against Gillis’ claims and come to their own conclusions.

Here are some of the crime bills that IFF did support that went unmentioned by Gillis:

IFF both testified in support of and positively rated House Bill 617 repealing the needle exchange program.

IFF supported the bill making the mere presence of an illegal alien in Idaho a crime.

We supported measures to end absentee ballot fraud, strengthen voter residency requirements, and establish the office of election crimes. 

Gillis and I stood shoulder to shoulder in support of House Joint Memorial 8 (updated to HJM 11 for the floor vote) that called for the closure of the border and the impeachment of Joe Biden for his treasonous conduct regarding the border. We both testified in support of this memorial before the House State Affairs committee. I would say that the open border is the single most important “crime issue” facing the country, not pension records or billboard advertising. Our work on this went unmentioned in his letter. And why doesn’t Gillis call out those who opposed this memorial on the floor as soft on crime and law and order? 

After identifying these bills, Gillis brings up six quotes from Parrish Miller from the period of 2016 to the present, implying that these selected quotes somehow informed the ratings, not the metrics. Personally, I don’t agree with some of the statements Parrish has made in these quotes. Some of them, I flat out disagree with. However, some of them are not egregious at all. Parrish is skeptical of Democracy. So were our Founders, as have been many conservatives historically. Skepticism that this is “a free country” was warranted when we saw the government response during COVID — mask mandates, business closures, and vaccine mandates, for example. President Donald Trump has made some unsupportable statements, too, over the course of his career — and I am still going to vote for him. 

Unfortunately, Gillis’ letter takes a very ugly turn toward the end, and he makes a number of unsupported statements, ones for which he offers no backup. He states that the ratings are arbitrary and reflect the slant of Parrish Miller but offers no evidence by showing where a particular rating deviates from the metrics. Then he tries to connect our ratings on bills with rising crime rates but offers no data or specificity making any connection, just an assertion. Not very good detective work. 

Gillis presents no data about the soft-on-crime thesis, but having done a little research, I found that Idaho has the sixth highest incarceration rate among the states. And the highest states, like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, have different demographics. So, I am not sure what the basis is for his view that IFF’s bill ratings have contributed to a soft-on-crime environment in Idaho. 

In summary, Gillis says IFF does good work, but he clearly disagrees with a small and incomplete sample of “crime bill” ratings that represent about 4% of our bill ratings. He blames Parrish Miller and implies he should be terminated from employment because he doesn’t like Parrish’s worldview. He believes that Parrish Miller’s influence on bills will lead to Idaho’s downfall. 

Sadly, Gillis is unable to come to grips with what caused his former state of residence, California, to fail and the many other states similarly situated. Perhaps he wants to side-step the role of public sector unions, including police unions, that hugely support Democrats and their progressive policies. What about the dysfunctional environment in D.C.? Is Parrish to blame for that? The overarching problem is that Gillis implies that Idaho will follow a state like Oregon, and he simply mentions drugs and crime as if that is the sum total of the problem with states like Oregon. 

Yes, we are more selective about supporting crime legislation — or any legislation — than Gillis, but we hardly fit the image he seeks to portray. There are many bad laws written, and for proof of that, comb through the bills each session and note how many of them are correcting previous legislation. A careful review of proposed new legislation is warranted. 

IFF has reviewed and rated thousands of bills over the decade I have been associated with this organization. We would never expect people to agree with all of them. However, Gillis’ attempt to demonize our rating system, discredit our work, and paint our allies with a broad brush will do more harm than he imagines. 

Idaho Freedom Foundation
802 W. Bannock Street, Suite 405, Boise, Idaho 83702
p 208.258.2280 | e [email protected]
COPYRIGHT © 2024 Idaho freedom Foundation
magnifiercrossmenucross-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram