Guest Opinions

Freedom Foundation ‘index’ just a bullying tactic

The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) would have us believe that its Freedom Index is the benchmark by which conservative legislators should be judged. In reality, it is of marginal use in identifying fealty to conservative values and is being used as a bully tactic against select legislators whom the foundation has targeted as dispensable.

The foundational principles for conservatives are those articulated in our founding documents. Primary among these are the classical-liberal, inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” or property. To accurately gauge or measure the conviction of legislators to our ideological roots, some means of quantifying and indexing votes against this tripartite value system would need to be created. To my knowledge, there is no such system.

In spite of their impressive list of items considered in their “Freedom Index Rating Matrix,” every rating boils down to one factor: Does a bill expand or constrict the growth of government? Indeed, in an online discussion with Wayne Hoffman, the president of the IFF, Hoffman conceded, “The Freedom Index measures growth of government.” This is wholly inadequate as the foundation for what is peddled as the ultimate statewide canon for measuring conservative orthodoxy.

Granted, as a general rule, when government expands, individual liberty is impeded and infringed upon. But expansion, or nonexpansion, of government is not the only definer of liberty. Nor is it the barometer to measure conviction to all of our founding principles. If that were the case, all conservatives would be anarchists, for they prefer no government. And since the index measures only “growth of government,” by that definition, absence of government, anarchism, would be the ideal. If “life, liberty, and property,” are the core principles of conservatism (classical-liberalism) the index is NOT a canon for conservative orthodoxy.

One simple example can illustrate the deficiency of the “expansion of government” basis for measuring conservatism. Based on that model, a statute that limits abortions would of necessity be classified as an expansion of governmental power, and a restriction of personal liberty. But to conservatives who are constitutionally oriented, life, and the protection and preservation thereof, as a core value, is pre-eminent to concerns over expansion of government to protect life. Especially life that is most innocent and vulnerable to the political machinations of a predominately immoral society.

And to further illustrate the absurdity of their methodology, any spending increase would have to be considered an expansion of government. In other words, technically, any increase in spending for education, for health care, for law enforcement, for infrastructure improvement or expansion, or the mentally ill, would have to be considered an “expansion of government.” What an irresponsible way to govern that would be! No wonder the IFF intentionally doesn’t rate appropriation bills, since it would unmask their libertarian/anarchist agenda as quantified by their illegitimate index!

Clearly, the Idaho Freedom Index is not a measurement of how “conservative” legislators are, as it measures only “growth of government.” If that’s all that matters, their index is of value. Otherwise, it’s merely another quantitatively challenged and disingenuous tool with which to browbeat and intimidate legislators. Gratefully, most Idaho legislators have higher values and don’t kowtow to their rankings.

Richard Larsen is president of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello. He can be reached at

Related stories from Idaho Statesman