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OPINION: Lawmaker: ‘Rational people’ need to step up in GOP

by CHUCK MALLOY/Guest Opinion
| December 15, 2023 1:00 AM

Bonneville County’s Republican Central Committee may have picked a fight against the wrong legislator.

Rep. Marco Erickson of Idaho Falls isn’t a bit worried about the central committee taking away his job in the Legislature. But he says they should be concerned about him going after their political positions. He says he’ll be running for a precinct office.

What’s happening in Bonneville County, he says, “wakes up people to the idea of why they need to run as precinct officers. We need to have rational people in there and civil discourse again. We’re going to have to take those small neighborhood positions and take back the party.”

Erickson, in his second term, is one of six GOP Republican legislators in Districts 32 and 33 who have been called out for multiple  violations of the state party platform. None of the six scheduled appearances before the committee to answer to the allegations, which could lead to disciplinary action at some point.

Erickson shrugs off anything the central committee does. “I was elected without any of their influence.”

He says the complaint against him lists multiple violations. “They had 15, maybe 16. I don’t remember half of them, because they were so funny. It cracks me up — we’ve already had these discussions when they whined about it the first time.”

He said points were taken away for supporting initiatives pushed by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, and not having high enough scores with the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s “Freedom Index.”

“Did we support those bills because they came from IACI? Well, no. We supported them because they were good for Idaho,” he said. 

Erickson isn’t the only one who has issues with the central committee’s scoring system. Rep. Barbara Ehardt of Idaho Falls (District 33) — who has a background as an educator and coach — says she was downgraded for supporting funding for schools. She said her constituents, of all political stripes, strongly support school funding.

“They want it done,” Ehardt said. “If you are paying attention to your district, that’s what you get. If you are on the side that too much money is being spent, then it’s up to you and do the grunt work and change the hearts and minds of people — then share that information with legislators.”

Ehardt, a vocal conservative voice in the Legislature, says she was “shocked” about the notice from the central committee; up to now, the relationship with party leaders has been good. Ehardt says she’s always glad to discuss her votes, but the tone of the committee’s letter to her is not the basis of a “friendly” conversation.

Erickson sees the party leadership being taken over by losing candidates, or those who get high scores from the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “I’ll call them Libertarians Impersonating Republicans. What’s happening is a classic case of people who can’t win their own elections because they are so extreme. It’s backfiring on them left and right.”

The 44-year-old Erickson resists the notion that he is neither “Republican” or “conservative” enough. “I don’t measure myself based on score. I measure myself on the ability to be an effective leader. When you have surpluses like we’ve had, people are saying we should make investments back in the public — the infrastructure so we can have better quality roads and bridges … or for better schools. They can slam me all they want, but I understand things on a bigger level.”

Erickson is the vice chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee, which fits with his life away from the Legislature. He is a director of a non-profit coalition that focuses on issues such as drug and alcohol prevention, and after-school programs for teens — which has him communicating with families.

“And they want me to vote against the Health and Welfare budget? Are you kidding me? As legislators, we can’t spend hundreds of hours going through each budget. If JFAC (the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee) supports it, then I’m voting for it,” he says.

“For me personally, it’s time to step up. All it takes is one election and 30 new rational thinkers. If we get a majority, all those guys who are in there will be mostly out, or they will quit.”

Apparently, the political drama in Bonneville County is just getting started.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.

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