Discover more from Gem State
Wolves in Sheep's Clothing
How groups like The Idaho 97 fool conservative voters
A few weeks ago I wrote about how former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney started a new PAC that uses retired law enforcement personnel to denounce Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin as too extreme for Idaho. Despite claiming to be a Republican, Raney is also a strong supporter of a group called The Idaho 97.
What is going on?
Everyone knows that Idaho is a red state. There are four times as many registered Republicans as Democrats, and our legislature is more than 80% Republican. The Democratic Party simply has no influence here. Democratic candidates for statewide office and Congress struggle to cross 40%. Yet progressive activists are nothing if not determined; they aim to bring every American under their totalitarian boot. The way to do that in Idaho is not through elections, but through supposedly nonpartisan action.
One such group is Reclaim Idaho, which is using the initiative process to fool well-meaning voters into supporting a massive tax hike for public education. I wrote about them a week ago over at Action Idaho, check it out.
Likewise, Take Back Idaho uses leftist talking points to attack the Idaho Freedom Foundation, apparently upset about how lawmakers’ voting records are being publicized. IFF President Wayne Hoffman explained how these organizations infiltrate our supposedly Republican legislature:
The secret recipe for this con job is simple. Run as a Republican. Claim you’re conservative. Vote for some pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, and criticize the most leftist national Democrat you can find. Vote for bigger and bigger government at the expense of families, churches, and charities. Collect campaign donations from leftist organizations, companies, and political action committees. Get re-elected.
This description fits The Idaho 97 to a tee. The group was founded in 2020 by former University of Idaho administrator Mike Satz and anti-gun and pro-abortion activist Emily Walton. They do not donate directly to candidates, rather they push issues through journalism and social media. Their initial mission was to support the lockdowns and mask mandates instituted by the Brad Little administration in the name of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Today, The Idaho 97 claims to support the democratic process, counter disinformation, and protect free expression in Idaho. Like Reclaim Idaho, the 97 puts on a nonpartisan mask. The fact that their positions and statements nearly always come from a left-wing perspective is surely coincidence, right?
Remember that The Idaho 97 supports mandatory vaccination and masks, said that Dr. Ryan Cole is dangerous, demanded an investigation into Ada County Commissioner Ryan Davidson, and called for the expulsion of Representative Priscilla Giddings from the legislature. They also oppose the school choice movement. Despite these positions, many establishment Republicans in Idaho claim that they represent true conservatives as opposed to extremists such as Lt. Governor McGeachin, Rep. Tammy Nichols, and Wayne Hoffman.
The Idaho 97 created a news website called the Idaho Capital Sun, where they interpret events through their left-wing lens. Capital Sun reporter Audrey Dutton is apparently on the Dr. Ryan Cole beat, with two different hit pieces on the front page as I write this. Dutton came to the Capital Sun after ten years at the equally left-wing Idaho Statesman and her Twitter feed is full of attacks on Dr. Cole, complaints about Idaho conservatives, and far too much self-congratulations about the newspaper business in general.
The Idaho 97 recently released its voter guide, and it is a laundry list of who not to vote for. They urge Republicans to vote for Brad Little, Scott Bedke, Lawrence Wasden, and Phil McGrane - each one being the least conservative candidate in their race. They urge us to vote for Debbie Critchfield for Superintendent of Public Instruction, which calls into question her supposedly conservative positions. Their legislative endorsements are a veritable who’s who of centrist, leftist, moderate, and establishment voices: Paul Amador, Tara Malek, Scott Brock, Greg Chaney, Jeff Agenbroad, Fred Martin, Chuck Winder, Treg Bernt, and many more. They recommended Josh Tanner here in District 14, but to his credit, Tanner unequivocally disavowed this endorsement.
The Idaho 97 supports Matt Clifford for Ada County Sheriff, which is worrying. I like Sheriff Clifford, and think he has done a great job, but I also agree with challenger Doug Traubel’s positions as well. I will write about this race sometime this week.
Even the names of these organizations attempt to imply a consensus that is not actually true. “The Idaho 97” perhaps alludes to the Idaho Three Percenters, while “Take Back Idaho” suggests that our state has been captured by the far right. (If only!) Despite being one of the most conservative states in the nation, these organizations attempt to convince voters that the majority of Idahoans are center-left, and that people such as Lt. Governor McGeachin, Rep. Giddings, or Rep. Nichols represent a fringe extremist minority.
So who is funding these wolves in sheep’s clothing?
Since The Idaho 97 does not directly donate to candidates, they are under no obligation to disclose their donors. Reclaim Idaho appears to be funded by numerous small donors throughout the state, as well as large contributions from groups such as the Movement Voter PAC, whose mission is to turn red states blue. Take Back Idaho is funded by some small donors as well as a $20,000 grant from something called River Quarry at ParkCenter LLC. The mailing address for this LLC is in California.
Remember the Defend and Protect Idaho PAC, which was formed to attack conservative candidates as too extreme? Their April contribution report shows a whopping $90,000 from a group called Real Idaho Patriots LLC. This LLC was formed in February of this year, with someone named Riley Park as the sole organizer. There is no easy way of knowing where this LLC got its money, which is surely the point. This is literal dark money being funneled into Idaho politics to attack conservative candidates using retired law enforcement personnel as messengers.
Defend and Protect Idaho reported one other contribution this week, $35,000 from a group called Americans Keeping Country First. This super PAC, based in Washington DC, was formed to funnel money to Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump in January of 2021.
I have encountered resistance from conservatives who believe that my initial post about Defend and Protect Idaho is anti-police, or that it somehow demonstrates that I do not back the blue. I believe that law enforcement personnel deserve our respect and appreciation, which makes it even more galling when retired police and sheriff’s deputies use their honorable cachet to attack conservative candidates. They act as if their status as law enforcement veterans inures them from any criticism about their positions or their motives. I believe that conservatives need to be wise to this ploy. We can give law enforcement personnel their due respect while still calling out these disingenuous and dishonest tactics.
Idaho is a red state, but it will not remain so for long if we are complacent. Keeping Idaho Idaho means more than defending against the latest progressive attacks but also going on the offensive to retake lost ground. Big cities such as Boise, colleges such as BSU and U of I, our public schools and public libraries, and our TV and print media outlets are all blue strongholds in this red state. Simply maintaining the status quo is not enough; we must retake these strongholds in the name of the traditional values we believe in.
The so-called moderate centrists are not our allies. Elected officials such as Brad Little, Scott Bedke, and Chuck Winder, activists such as Mike Satz and Emily Watson, and organizations such as Take Back Idaho, The Idaho 97, and Defend and Protect Idaho are fighting our efforts to keep our state red. They would rather manage our decline into progressive totalitarianism than do anything to restore traditional conservative values to Idaho. Many of them are funded by progressive organizations that understand how the label Democrat is anathema in this state, so they hide their true intentions.
It is one thing to step into the arena and join the debate in the marketplace of ideas, but it is quite another to obfuscate your true motives and launder progressive positions through PACs and badges. I will continue to expose these wolves in sheep’s clothing.