February 3, 2023
The Idaho Freedom Caucus: Bringing the Battle for Freedom to the State
By: David George
“I’ve got my right and my left mixed up,” Tom Arkoosh remarked in his closing statement in the Attorney General’s debate.
Although he was referring to hand gestures he had made as a part of his statement (see clip below), no better words than his own could have captured the essence of Arkoosh’s political campaign or the current political climate within Idaho generally.
At one point in the general election process, “Nearly 50 longtime Idaho Republicans, including a former governor and dozens of other past and current officeholders […] endorsed the Democratic candidate [Arkoosh] for attorney general[.]” – (East Idaho News: “Various Idaho Republicans supporting Democrat for Attorney General”).
Arkoosh’s political identity fluctuated no less than three times in 2022, the only consistency in his political activity being opposition to Raul Labrador, the eventual victor and Idaho’s new Attorney General.
Labrador’s political beliefs have been consistent both during his campaign and in the seven years leading up to it.
In 2015, Labrador founded the House Freedom Caucus alongside Ron DeSantis, Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan. The organization has grown from its original membership to at least 46 members as of 2022, with some estimates placing its membership in the capital at 53 this year.
And incidentally, Idaho welcomed its own version of the House Freedom Caucus in 2023, coinciding with Labrador’s election as AG.
Both Labrador and the State Freedom Caucus appear to be part of a larger conservative movement spreading across the state. Critical elections within the Republican Party itself saw the “changing of the guard” and the installation of more consistently conservative figures, such as Dorothy Moon and Maria Nate, who also serves as Idaho Director for the State Freedom Caucus Network.
“We are at war – and it shouldn’t be [and isn’t] with each other,” Maria said in a speech at the Republican Convention. Her remarks earned a powerful ovation and a position in party leadership as Secretary, alongside the new Chair of the Idaho Republican Party, Dorothy Moon.
Now filling two roles within the conservative movement, Maria spoke on the currents of division within the state:
“Across the country there is a disconnect between establishment Republicans and true, conservative, liberty-minded Republicans,” said Maria. “The same political discussions are happening in every state.”
Maria was raised in a politically active family. Her father, Dennis Olsen, served as the Chair of the Republican Party from 1977 to 1985. Some of her earliest memories include helping her mother print and distribute the “Bonneville County Trumpeter” to homes and voters in their community.
“I grew up in a politically active family,” says Maria, in reflection. “During all my formative years, I was involved in the Republican Party. I learned a lot about politics from my parents and their example of activism – maybe it’s just built into my DNA.”
She seems to shrug the words off as a jest, but the explanation makes sense.
She and her husband, Ron Nate, have adopted expanding roles in the Idaho political scene.
Ron served as a Representative in the State House for 3 terms before accepting a position at the Idaho Freedom Foundation last fall.
Maria’s resume includes significant experience in politics alongside her husband which placed her in the role of a political advisor, campaign manager, PR spokesperson, as well as a mother and wife, the titles with which she is perhaps most comfortable, although she is widely considered an expert of the Idaho political scene.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘What does it mean to be a conservative now? What does that even mean anymore?’ says Maria. “It’s a good question. A lot of people have begun to realize that over time, sitting officials tend to get less and less conservative. Some politicians get sucked into the culture of establishment politics, and they forget their conservative roots.”
For the Nates and many others in the state, the Freedom Caucus represents a solution to the erratic fluctuations within established Party leadership both at home and abroad.
According to Maria, Caucus members use the rules and procedures of the Senate and House to draw attention to problems in establishment politics. The individual members of the State Freedom Caucus act as “the conscience of the Republican Party,” working to remind people of its original principles.
“A group of strong, liberty-minded legislators can make a real impact in policy,” claims Maria. “The establishment views them as competition and so they do their very best to marginalize them, but conservatives are starting to organize and group together. There is a lot of people pulling together for freedom in Idaho and the movement is growing.”
For Maria, the answer to the question of political identity is relatively simple and straightforward:
“Being a ‘conservative’ means I want to conserve the good principles I grew up with during the Reagan Republican era,” she explains. “The Republican spirit is the spirit of freedom and liberty and individual rights. Rights come from God, not from government – and that’s the core of true conservatism.”
You can find more info about the Idaho Freedom Caucus at: StateFreedomCaucus.org
David George is an independent journalist who specializes in investigative journalism about Idaho politics. He lives in East Idaho.