April 1, 2023
The 2023 Legislative Awards
My entirely subjective opinions
By: Brian Almon
I had a great time watching the 2023 legislative session up close and personal this year. I learned a lot about the process and got to see many of our representatives in action. Some were awesome. Some less so. Many were quiet, doing their jobs without much fanfare.
I would like to present the official Gem State Substack Legislative Awards for the 2023 session. These are entirely based on my own observations and do not reflect endorsements by me or any affiliated organization.
Rookie of the Year: Josh Tanner (R-Eagle)
Longtime readers might remember that I supported Rep. Tanner’s opponent in the primary. I figured Josh would be a solid conservative but felt that the incumbent, Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, was doing a perfectly fine job. After he won the primary, Josh reached out to me to make sure we were on the same page and shared his vision for what he would be doing in the House. He has risen to the task spectacularly and comes out of his first session not only with a solid voting record but a reputation for fiscal conservatism on the powerful Joint Finance / Appropriations Committee. I can’t wait to see the budgets he trims next year.
Best Debater: Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot)
I remember the first time I heard Rep. Young speak. It was in the House Judiciary and Rules Committee, and I had just finished testifying in favor of H71, which would ban drugs and surgery to alter a child’s sexual characteristics. Julianne began speaking during committee deliberations and expressed her sympathy for those who had testified against. I thought “Ah, here we go with the equivocation.” But then she gave the most well reasoned debate in favor of the bill I had ever heard. I soon learned that when Julianne stood up on the House floor that I would be in for a treat. She has an ability to calmly and logically support her position while utterly dismantling the opposing side, and doing so in such a way that never comes across as antagonistic.
Most Ridiculous Debater: Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen (R-Idaho Falls)
Rep. Mickelsen said a lot of ridiculous things this session. She claimed that rights were granted by government. She lamented the idea of taking away “abortion care” from medical school curricula. But the craziest moment came when debating against H314, which tells libraries they can’t give graphic and obscene material to children. Stephanie grew increasingly animated as she said that this bill was the first step toward Nazi book burnings, and that Nazi-style genocide was just around the corner. Calm down, ma’am.
Best Caucus: The Idaho Freedom Caucus
I wondered what was up when a bunch of legislators flew out to Washington DC before the session began. Then I learned that the national Freedom Caucus had expanded, establishing chapters in several state legislatures. Rep. Heather Scott and Sen. Tammy Nichols led the caucus while Maria Nate held the group together as executive director. The dozen or so members held the line on many important votes and presented a unified voice in favor of conservative values. Their influence will only grow from here.
Best Committee Chairman: Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa)
I first met Rep. Crane late last year when he came to Eagle to teach me and some other political junkies how to get involved in the legislative process and testify before committees. I found him calm, knowledgeable, and generous in sharing his years of political experience. I was pleased to see him bring the same measured approach to his leadership of the House State Affairs Committee. He moved legislation properly and efficiently, and was respectful to testifiers while still maintaining order and decorum. If only every committee had someone like Brent.
Most Disappointing: Rep. Julie Yamamoto (R-Caldwell)
We expect Democrats to be leftists. We expect certain Republicans to swing to the left as well. But Rep. Yamamoto had an extremely disappointing session. I first met her in 2020 when she chaired the Credentials Committee at the Idaho GOP Convention and found her reasonable and measured. Unfortunately something seems to have changed. She chaired the House Education Committee as if it were a kindergarten classroom, one which gained a reputation as the place where good bills went to die. She was discovered to have been improperly colluding behind the scenes to push certain bills while killing others, she debated against good bills like H314, and it seemed like she voted the wrong way on nearly every piece of legislation before the House. The worst part was how she justified herself by appealing to her Christian faith.
Most Disappointing Freshman: Rep. James Petzke (R-Meridian)
Rep. Petzke is young, but he seems to have already ingratiated himself with the establishment. Like Yamamoto, his name consistently showed up on the wrong side of conservative legislation. Again, this is not to say he was the worst representative in the House – and he seems to be a nice guy – it’s just that he fell the most short of what I hoped he could be.
Democrat of the Year: Rep. Ilana Rubel (D-Boise)
Although I probably disagree with her 99% of the time, I was impressed that Rep. Rubel was willing to talk with Wayne Hoffman on IFF’s Hoff Time Report. How many establishment Republicans refuse to do even that? She also sponsored a reasonably good bill that would seal the criminal records of certain non-violent offenders who stay clean for five years.
Most Disappointing Governor: Gov. Brad Little
As his second term begins, Gov. Little has a lot of political capital and almost no risk. He could do basically anything at this point. Imagine if he had the conservative leanings of a Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, or Kristi Noem. If he got behind some piece of conservative legislation like school choice, he could have easily pushed it through. Instead, he used every ounce of capital on the foolish Launch Grant, $8,000 for workforce training for so-called in demand careers. Basically, a handout to his friends in IACI.
He also vetoed H292, a bill to bring property tax relief to homeowners, then claimed credit when the Legislature overrode him.
Honorable Mention: Speaker Mike Moyle (R-Star)
I first met Speaker Moyle around three years ago, when he was still in District 14. I found him to be refreshingly blunt and outspoken. He was never afraid to speak his mind, whether to the media or to constituents. I was disappointed with the way he structured some of the House committees (see above) but he had a great session otherwise. He managed the House well in his first session as speaker, using his authority to route bills to where they needed to go – either to save them or to kill them – including sending H314 to Rep. Crane in State Affairs rather than Rep. Yamamoto in Education.
His showdown with the governor and Senate leadership over H292 last week was a masterclass in political legerdemain.
There were many other great performances this year, and I am sorry I cannot celebrate them all.
On the House side I want to commend Reps. Heather Scott, Dale Hawkins, Tony Wisniewski, Joe Alfieri, Bruce Skaug, Barbara Ehardt, Jordan Redman, Kevin Andrus, Jaron Crane, Mike Kingsley, Ted Hill, Judy Boyle, and many more.
On the Senate side I want to shout out Sens. Tammy Nichols, Brian Lenney, Glenneda Zuiderveld, Ben Toews, Phil Hart, Doug Okuniewicz, Cindy Carlson, Chris Trakel, and Ben Adams for their work this year.
I didn’t agree with all their votes, but each one did or said something that impressed me during the session.
Among all these great statesmen there was one person who consistently stood head and shoulders above the rest. This senator never failed to impress me with his reasoned debate, his eloquent defenses of conservative principles, and his hard work behind the scenes to make good laws a reality.
The MVP of the 2023 legislative session is Sen. Scott Herndon (R-Sagle)
I first met Sen. Herndon at the 2022 Convention in Twin Falls. He was seriously impressive in his floor debates regarding the sanctity of life in the state party platform. Already the chairman of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee, he decided to take matters into his own hands this year by defeating incumbent moderate Republican Jim Woodward by double digits.
Scott brings tremendous life experience to the Legislature. His background includes finance, information technology, homebuilding, serving as a jail chaplain, and as father to eight children.
He came to Boise ready to work, sponsoring numerous common-sense bills such as preventing CPS from taking your children away because of their vaccine status, loosening regulations regarding raw milk sales, and preventing cities from requiring that public works contractors provide transgender bathrooms. Most of these passed with broad bipartisan support.
Scott co-sponsored a bill to prohibit using student IDs for voting; this bill passed on strict party lines.
He also proposed some radical ideas such as completely abolishing abortion and getting the government out of the marriage business.
Scott was often the strongest voice on JFAC (alongside Rep. Tanner) with regards to cutting budgets and using the power of the purse to stop funding woke nonsense. His floor debates were always fantastic as he calmly and logically explained the reasonableness of his position and the absurdity of opposing it. Unlike many political figures who simply repeat conservative talking points, Scott has a deep understanding of conservative principles.
I believe Scott will be a force in Idaho politics for as long as he wants to be. We can only hope that he spends a few more years doing this great work before, like Cincinattus and George Washington before him, the call of the quiet life back home becomes too irresistible.
Note: A descendant of American pioneers, Brian writes about the importance of culture and about current events in the context of history. His work can be found on Substack, here.