John Livingston

We Have Only Ourselves to Blame – Part 2

As I pointed out in my two previous articles about political organizations and process, Idaho conservatives have been fighting and occasionally winning individual battles. We can overcome the political powers that be in our State only with great talent. We have been fighting the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) led system by putting up individual political candidates and winning individual skirmishes. When we have an extremely talented candidate, we have a chance of winning. My point in these articles is to simply posit the idea that we as conservatives need to create and buy into a system that will be able to confront the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) etal. Continuously on many fronts—Statewide constitutional offices, Federal Congressional Districts, Senators, and State legislators all the way down to school boards and county commissioners, across the entire State. We need a conservative brigade. A team working together. We need to develop and support young talent.

Idaho has had some great political talents. Governor Cecil Andrus was a force to be reckoned with. He had the great ability to make his political opponents feel like friends. Along with Senator Frank Church who also created his own brand, the two Democrats may have been part of what precipitated the formation of the forerunner of IACI in the early 1970’s. Populists both, Church (a progressive) the other Andrus, a Lyndon Johnson liberal. The main special interest groups today supporting progressive ideals in Idaho are led by the teacher(s) unions, The Bar, and the Idaho Medical Association (IMA) and the Idaho Hospital Association (IHA). Very different from who traditional Democrats aligned themselves with in the past. Neither politician was a creature of a “system” but succeeded because of their own talent and the people who they picked to surround them. That is the danger of a personal “POLITICAL BRAND”. Once the public sours on the brand there is no one else available to take their place. In fact, “the power of the system” has created a situation in our State where establishment Republicans referred to wrongly as RINOs (Republican in Name Only) are able to hide under the cover of IACI who does the real dirty work of promoting progressive and liberal policies.

Looking at the Idaho Freedom Foundation Index or their Spending Index one can identify at least 35% of legislators who say they are conservative, but support special interest sponsored legislation without regard to the wishes of the people that elected them. I believe every legislator should wear attached to their credential badge, ribbons identifying lobbyists and special interests that contributed more than $1000 to their campaigns. For out of State Contributors a double sized ribbon could be fixed to the legislator’s badge. The contributors could create their own colorful badges with their marketing teams. When we watch a legislator debate on Public Broadcasting they would stand up and we could see who their contributors are! We could have a “We the People” badge contest where the people vote for the most colorful badge every session via a PBS livestream vote. Melaleuca vs Blue Cross in one semifinal, St. Luke’s vs Facebook in the other.

As an aside, Idaho’s most courageous politician was Frank Church. I disagreed with almost every position he took. The author of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) —sound familiar, he warned Americans years before 9/11 and The Patriot Act, of the dangers of the intelligence communities, and the control and leverage that they could apply to private citizens. His understanding of the potential abuse of power came from his service as an intelligence officer in the Navy where he developed a healthy skepticism of the military, CIA, and DOJ. He was 40 years ahead of his time on these issues and many conservatives (and progressives for that matter) should read of his concerns. He may have been an early victim of an evolving “DC Swamp”. Conservatives need to be fearless like Frank Church.

On the Republican side the two biggest brands of my lifetime have been Raul Labrador and Butch Otter. We know of Raul, but Governor Otter who has been a friend once described himself as a Tenth Amendment Republican. He had libertarian instincts, and though he rose through the ranks of Republican Party politics supported by IACI and a few other special interests, he became his own brand when he went to DC as a Congressmen and then came back to be Governor. In the last half of his Governorship, he became an “institutionalist” opining in his last year, and I paraphrase, that he now believed that there is a bigger role for government than he once did.

I believe in the end of his career he lost his political focus and allowed himself to be captured by the establishment swamp special interests. And what happens to anyone when they become supplicant to another person or organization? They lose their power and influence to the whims of their benefactors. When the special interest becomes the brand, they have no political power. I was once told that the politics of winning elections by nature is very different that the politics of governing. In the first-instance candidates try to distinguish differences between themselves and their opponents. In the second-place legislators and governors try to find common ground. I disagree with the premise of the argument. There are certain principles that have providential relevance—abortion, 1ST and Second Amendment, personal safety. There are others that are more “prudential” building roads, the auditing of government agencies before budgets are balanced for example. The size of government and the impact that government has on individual liberty is a providential issue for conservatives like me. It is not to be put on the bargaining table in the name of “governance”.

So, to conclude this series here is what conservative Idahoans need to do:

  1. Define our “Providential” issues clearly.
  2. Define our constituency clearly—May I suggest Families, Small businesses, farms and ranches, blue collar tradesman, conservative teachers, nurses, and doctors who have been marginalized by their professional organizations and their employers.
  3. Begin the hard work of making a system using the IACI model. A system that will rely more on process, and not rely solely on talent.

We need to start winning the war and not just a few battles.

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