A proposal to create a conservative caucus came at the tail end of a session marked by frequent conflicts and procedural disputes between House Republican leaders and a group of far-right lawmakers.
The group that includes Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, has some good ideas, said Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, but they’ve undermined their own efforts by directly challenging the established leadership hierarchy.
Read our recap: Idaho Legislature: Late consensus on road bill caps 2017 session marked by infighting
“We feel like the conservative message isn’t getting out,” he said. “Some walls have been built, some barriers. We need to come together as a group to get our message into meaningful bills.”
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Kingsley and Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, are co-chairmen of the new caucus. They expect to have at least 10 members initially, but 24 showed up to a late-afternoon informational meeting Monday.
The caucus is modeled in part on the congressional House Freedom Caucus, which included U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and made a name for itself by ousting House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in 2015. The group also played a role in blocking the replacement of Obamacare last week.
“We love what they’re doing in D.C. with their Freedom Caucus,” Kingsley said. “They’re having an impact.”
Zollinger, however, suggested the Idaho House Freedom Caucus will be a kinder, gentler version of its congressional counterpart.
“We aren’t going to be throwing grenades,” he said. “We’re not trying to oust anyone. We’re looking to push conservative ideas through the channels that currently exist.”
The confrontational tactics used by the Scott-Nate group were a major distraction during the session for many lawmakers. They were uncomfortable being asked to “pick sides” and disliked the personal attacks.
“I was disappointed with the problems and bad feelings we had,” said Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, who attended the informational meeting. “I think my side (conservatives) got hurt by it.”
Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, said her concern about forming a new caucus is that it will simply entrench the already existing split within the House Republican caucus.
“I don’t mind doing this, but the main goal should be repairing our Republican caucus,” she said.
Zollinger said the plan is to take input and suggestions over the summer and move forward next session. The intent right now is that it be open to anyone who accepts the Idaho Republican Party platform, although the group may become more selective about membership requirements in the future.
“To the extent that we’ve made mistakes as a group, I think we can correct them,” he said. “We have more that unites us than divides us.”
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