Middle ground, not divisiveness, is needed

“Push it to the middle” is a maxim my brother, a retired Marine Corps major, repeats often and is a practice sorely needed in Idaho now.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation, a libertarian think tank, has been ramping up divisive, extremist activities including a “Disobey Idaho” rally in Boise in defiance of Gov. Little’s coronavirus stay-home order. The Foundation named and posted on Facebook photos of a Meridian police officer who arrested an anti-vaccine activist for trespassing after she provoked her arrest at a Meridian park playground closed because of the coronavirus. Foundation followers were encouraged on social media to “gridlock” Meridian City Hall and express their feelings. Anti-government activist Ammon Bundy and a dozen others protested soon after at the officer’s home.

To gauge the extremism of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, its scoring of bills during this past legislative session is nearly perfectly aligned with District 32 Rep. Chad Christensen’s votes on the same legislation. Christensen scored the highest of any legislator on the Foundation’s Freedom Index and 100% on its “Spending Index.” Christensen states in his 2020 candidate survey posted on the Foundation’s website that property and income taxes are unconstitutional, all occupational licenses should be repealed and “garbage propaganda programs,” which he claims exist at Idaho’s universities, should be eliminated. Last year, District 33A Rep. Barbara Ehardt sent a letter signed by Christensen, District 33B Rep. Bryan Zollinger and 25 other legislators to Boise State University President Marlene Tromp decrying several of the university’s diversity initiatives as “social or political agendas.”

Along with Christensen’s A-plus rating, Zollinger received an A and Ehardt a B-plus on the Freedom Index, while the majority of legislators received an F rating. Zollinger and Ehardt also received high marks on the “Spending Index.” Zollinger stated in his candidate survey that he would like to see Medicaid “completely eliminated.”

Melaleuca CEO Frank Vandersloot told Eastern Idaho News this week that during the past legislative session while championing the Idaho Patient Act, designed to rein in predatory medical debt collection, legislators pointedly voiced to him their upset over his taking to task a member of “the club.” Zollinger works for the law firm of Idaho Freedom Foundation board member Bryan Smith and represents Medical Recovery Services in debt collection cases. The bill passed with only Christensen, Ehardt, Zollinger and a handful of other legislators opposing it. The Foundation gave the bill a negative nine out of a possible negative 10 score.

Also, local retired nonprofit leader Carrie Scheid has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Foundation for two alleged violations of requirements to retain its 501(c)3 tax-exempt, nonprofit status. Encouraging people to violate the stay-home order, thereby “supporting illegal activities” and excessive lobbying activities, which are incompatible with 501©3 status, according to Scheid.

A stated goal of the Foundation is to “free people from government dependency.” But what Idahoans need to be free from is the extremist actions of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and Christensen, Ehardt and Zollinger need to be replaced by leaders who push for the middle, higher ground.