Many years ago, one of the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s supporters asked a simple question: How can I tell if my legislator is conservative?
The question was in reference to then-state senator Joyce Broadsword, who appeared to have all the markings of a lawmaker who leans left. We had no real way of knowing other than attempts to anecdotally sum the total of her voting record, and the state Legislature’s website did not (and still does not) allow constituents to evaluate voting records in total.
That supporter’s question and the desire to seek an answer based on facts and not guesswork formed the basis of creation of the Idaho Freedom Index. The Index asks the same 12 questions of every bill that goes through the Legislature to determine whether the legislation results in more freedom or less.
I believed the exercise to be important as well because I could see how Idaho’s government was constantly growing after watching the Legislature for many years, — not only in terms of the number of government employees and money spent, but also in terms of loss of liberty. Yet lawmakers almost universally talked about their “conservative” voting records. Something was not quite right. It seemed important that we figure out how a Republican-controlled Legislature continued to enlarge government.
The Freedom Index solves the mystery. The Freedom Index doesn’t ask whether a new program, government function, or restriction on liberty is good or bad. It just evaluates if the bill creates a new program, government function, or restriction on liberty.. Every bill that was ever introduced in any lawmaking body is argued to be “good” by its supporters. Legislators will often cling to these positive narratives in order to justify the expansion of government. Whether a proposal is deemed good is not of interest to us. We’re only interested in its impact on a free society.
Lawmakers from time to time may vote in support of a bill that’s contrary to conservative principles. The question is whether the legislator votes consistently for the expansion of government at the expense of individuals, families, and businesses that reside here. Each bill analysis can best be summarized as, “With the passage of this legislation, would Idahoans be more or less free than they were before?”
For example, let’s look at supporters of teacher loan forgiveness programs. Supporters will argue the program is necessary in order to attract and retain educators. But metrics view such a program for what it is: a new government program subsidized by taxpayers who are compelled to give their money to someone else who did not earn it. Clearly, Idahoans are made less free when they are forced to pay for someone else’s education.
Another bill that became law expanded the government education system to include full-day kindergarten, before- and after-school programs, and summer programs. Supporters might argue that it’s good because it helps kids with their education. Still, it is another government program. And such an expansion can (and should) be viewed as taking responsibility from parents and giving that responsibility to the government.
A bill that passed the Senate but failed in the House would have compelled insurance companies to provide six months of contraceptives for free to their insured clients. Again, one might argue that such a mandate is worthy because it could prevent unplanned pregnancies. But it is also an example of politicians substituting their wisdom for that of the private sector, which violates conservative principles.
To as accurately as possible quantify the loss or gain in liberty, the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s team of policy analysts examine every bill that goes through the Legislature. Their work is posted on our website ahead of every House or Senate floor vote so that lawmakers and their constituents are aware of the reasons a bill has its score. Then as votes accumulate during the legislative session, everyone can see in real time whether lawmakers are voting for more or less government.
For a decade, the Idaho Freedom Index has been the gold standard of helping constituents know what’s really going on in Boise as well as determining lawmakers’ positions on the size and scope of government. I am often thankful to Joyce Broadsword, a leftist legislator from North Idaho, for being the inspiration that launched the most comprehensive accountability tool ever applied to the Idaho Legislature.
In 2022, when a lawmaker boasts about how “conservative” he or she is, Idahoans now have the Idaho Freedom Index to verify whether or not that is true.