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Former GOP chief let's slip a dirty secret: Idaho’s government is built for the politically-connected

Former GOP chief let's slip a dirty secret: Idaho’s government is built for the politically-connected

Wayne Hoffman
December 14, 2023

Trent Clark, the former chairman of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) and former Monsanto lobbyist recently said something interesting about the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) that’s worth dissecting. His statement is at the heart of today’s political discord. 

On Facebook, he wrote, “Our current government is beholden to the businesses that are thriving in this political environment. IFF, on the other hand, is beholden to the very businesses that do not thrive in this environment, and therefore are willing to pay handsomely to disrupt the system.”

Let’s start with the first part of the sentence: “Our current government” refers to the government of the state of Idaho, controlled almost entirely for nearly 30 years, by Republicans. During that time, in 2000, Clark was chairman of the state GOP, a time in which, he also wrote nostalgically, that Republicans occupied 32 of the 35 seats in the state Senate. 

Did those senators, the Republican governor, or the Republican-controlled House of Representatives pass universal education choice? Did they limit the power of the labor unions that control the education system? Did they get rid of the income tax or the property tax? Did they do anything to control, curtail or even eliminate a single state agency or button down the welfare system? No. Of course not. In fact, whatever moves have been made over the last three decades to promote conservative values have been dwarfed by the rampant growth in government spending and government control over our daily lives.

If you’re not sure whether this is true, consider that just a few short years ago, the state underwent a complete overhaul of the regulatory code because the regulations had simply gotten out of hand. It wasn’t a Democrat-controlled government that did that; it was the Republicans. For his part, Gov. Brad Little initially balked at the exercise of curtailing regulations but then championed it as soon as he realized that it gave him conservative street cred. How does a thick regulatory code benefit big businesses? Because if you’re a big business, you probably have an employee or even a whole department able to decipher and comply with state mandates. A sole proprietorship or small business is at a huge disadvantage under such a regime.

Consider also that the entire state-appropriated budget set by the Legislature in 2000 was around $3.6 billion. Today, it’s almost $14 billion, outpacing both population growth and inflation. The state’s dependency on the federal government for money has grown from less than 30 percent of the state’s budget to more than 40 percent. 

So, when Clark says the government is “beholden to the businesses that are thriving in this political environment,” to whom is he referring? Who has benefited from the explosive growth of government? 

The word “businesses” in Clark’s statement is deceptive. Businesses include special interest groups and lobbying entities, including those that represent state agencies and local governments. They’re the ones who have “thrived” the most. IACI represents big businesses, including the medical industrial complex, both of which benefited from the near total acquiescence to Obamacare through the implementation of a state-run insurance exchange in 2013 and the expansion of the medical welfare system in 2018, relieving some businesses of any health insurance obligations they’d otherwise have for their employees. The expansion of the medical welfare system, the biggest driver of government expenses, (with Medicaid now being the latest program in all of state government) benefits IACI and its members. 

In 2023, the Legislature and Gov. Little took steps to relieve businesses of employee training responsibilities, making that an expense borne by taxpayers. The barista working at your local coffee shop might not be able to afford to go to college, but the state is making damn sure that she pays, through her taxes, for someone else’s college and career training. 

Yes, the current system benefits special interests, big businesses, government agencies, and the programs on which each depends. The special tax breaks and perks, and the flow of money from you to them is precisely what is being protected by a government “beholden,” as Clark puts it, to them.

Clark claims that the Idaho Freedom Foundation is also “beholden” to those that do not “thrive” in this environment. That’s where he gets things wrong. IFF is only beholden to the ideals of liberty. Those ideals benefit ordinary people and businesses, because it means everyone is treated exactly the same under the law.

Nobody donates to the IFF in order to get a program passed, for special tax treatment, or even for special consideration by government. They want the government to stop stealing the money they earn in order to give the ill-gotten proceeds to someone else. They want a government that stops exploiting people and gets back to its core mission, which is to protect our natural rights. They basically just want to be left alone, and they support our work to that end. 

That is what the present political fight is about. It’s a question of direction. Shall the state of Idaho continue to be the vessel through which certain people or entities benefit, or will the state’s singular interest be our constitutionally protected rights? The latter course means everyone thrives, not just the politically connected. 

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