Judge them by what they say and do, not by what dark money interests say

Political contests in Idaho seem to be getting uglier with each passing year. The closing of the Republican primary in 2011 deserves a great deal of the blame. Extremist candidates found that they could win by brandishing fake culture war issues against traditional Republicans who were interested in solving problems. Stoking fear and outrage produces more votes than pledging to fix roads and schools in a low-turnout closed primary.

The flood of money into Idaho from out-of-state dark money interests that favor extreme candidates has added to the problem. One such group, Maryland-based Idaho Federation for Children PAC, has spent $228,000 in the GOP primary, most of it in negative campaigning against three highly-regarded House Republicans–Richard Cheatum, Kenny Wroten and Melissa Durrant– who opposed using taxpayer money for private and religious schooling.

Another extremist group, Texas-based Young Americans for Liberty (YAFL), has been one of the biggest spenders in Idaho elections over the past few years. An affiliated PAC, Make Liberty Win, has made false claims against traditional Republicans, including Senators Chuck Winder and Treg Burnt and Rep James Petzke. Winder expects the PAC to spend $500,000 this election cycle, supporting extremist candidates and trashing their opponents. Columnist Randy Stapilus wisely recommends that this type of garbage be disposed of with the other trash.

One tactic of YAFL is to finance waves of door knockers who pass out scurrilous handouts, trashing responsible legislators. They may appear to be dedicated volunteers, but are often college students earning up to $4,160 per month, plus gas and housing. It might be revealing for recipients of the handouts to ask the door knockers where they are from, whether they are being paid and who hired them.

In this day and age, when voters are often unable to get reliable information about candidates on the ballot, where can they turn? The closure of so many weekly newspapers and the decline of daily papers has dried up traditional sources of news for many. The explosion of social media has flooded voters with information, but a great deal of it is unreliable. What is a voter to do in getting the information necessary to make an informed choice?

All is not lost. Despite the fact that most daily papers in Idaho have fallen on tougher times, their reportage on political candidates is still generally reliable. What information is available on our TV stations is good. New publications like the Idaho Capital Sun and Idaho Education News (IEN) are doing a fine job of political reporting. I have been impressed with IEN’s voter guide. The Idaho League of Women Voters also has a trustworthy voter guide.

The latest addition to reliable information on political candidates is Take Back Idaho’s comprehensive voter guide. Take Back Idaho (TBI) is a non-partisan group of Idahoans dedicated to removing extremism from Idaho politics. TBI does not endorse candidates in its voter guide. The guide lets primary election candidates speak for themselves. It contains news reports, links to candidate websites and information furnished by and for candidates. The purpose of the guide is to provide information to allow voters to judge candidates based upon what they say and do, regardless of what dark money interests may say about them. To get a flavor of the guide, I would recommend checking out the Jim Woodward vs Scott Herndon contest, which appears first in the publication. And make sure to get out and vote in the May 21 primary.

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