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Take Back Idaho aims to loosen extremism's grip on Legislature

"In the last decade, there has been a lot of divisiveness, a lot of pandering and not much policymaking trying to do things to make the lives of Idahoans better."

BOISE, Idaho — A new political action committee in Idaho is taking aim at the Idaho Freedom Foundation and extremism in state government.

Retired Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones and former Senate Pro Tem Bob Geddes, both registered Republicans, say they did not always see eye to eye on everything during their careers. Jones identifies himself as an Independent now.

But the veteran state leaders agree on one thing now: The far-right's hold on the Idaho Legislature and influence on bills and policy is doing a disservice to Idaho and its residents.

"In the last decade, there has been a lot of divisiveness, a lot of pandering and not much policymaking trying to do things to make the lives of Idahoans better," Jones said. "It has gotten consistently worse in the last several years. And it's a tragedy, I think."

The pair teamed up with a bipartisan group of political activists and former politicians to form the Take Back Idaho PAC late last year, with a stated goal of freeing Idaho "from the grip of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, its partner organizations, and their acolytes in the GOP legislative ranks."

The Idaho Freedom Foundation, formed as a conservative think tank in 2009, holds outsized power in the Legislature, often instructing individual lawmakers what bills to bring forward during the session and how to vote. Critics of the group say the IFF wields its "Freedom Index" method of scoring lawmakers in how closely they voted in accordance to Freedom Foundation suggestions to get Republican lawmakers to either fall in line, or risk primary challenges and accusations of being anti-liberty.

"The civility has left the process," Geddes said. "There's a lot of pressure on legislators now especially coming from the Idaho Freedom Foundation to comply with their demands, or else fail to get a high index score from their process. To me, that has detracted a lot from what legislators really are elected to do, and that is to represent their constituency, not a lobbying organization."

The Take Back Idaho PAC is spearheaded by cattle rancher and past President of the Idaho Cattle Association Jennifer Ellis. It includes conservatives as well as moderates, Jones said, and includes native Idahoans, former leaders of the Idaho House and Senate, educators, a former Secretary of State, ranchers, farmers and veteran GOP officers among its ranks.

"All the Freedom Foundation is dedicated to is doing away with public schools, which consequently is a violation of the Idaho Constitution," Jones said. "There's a lot of fear involved in it. And they have a leg up because we've got a closed primary system here in Idaho."

The Idaho Freedom Foundation declined to comment for this story.

The PAC says to achieve their goals, they will focus on educating Idahoans on how to identify and fight dangerous extremism and misinformation. Jones and Geddes said they hope to see "far-right extremists" voted out of the Legislature in favor of "responsible candidates who will focus on infrastructure, public education, and other real issues facing Idahoans.

Secretary of State campaign finance reports show the Take Back Idaho PAC has raised about $45,000 so far. They plan to spend campaign money on coaching and supporting their candidates.

"I hope at the end of the day that this effort makes a difference in people's lives to demonstrate to them how important it is that they don't just passively accept anything that happens within their government," Geddes said.

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