In Idaho’s First Congressional District, where the most conservative candidates generally win, ratings from the American Conservative Union tend to carry more punch than other places.
They especially have relevance to state Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene in his run for Congress.
Trouble is, what rating should voters be looking at? Is it the 2015 rating, where Malek had a 91 percent and was in line with Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard, a leading right-wing conservative? Or should voters consider this year’s rating that puts Malek at 33 percent – the same rating given to House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding of Boise?
Hmmm. Malek is either on the fringes of the right wing, or he’s as liberal as any Democrat in the Legislature. Another possibility, that Malek probably would endorse, is that the ACU ratings are fatally flawed and useless.
Ratings from various groups shouldn’t matter to “true leaders,” he says. “The bottom line for voters is that they deserve a representative that will listen to them, answer their questions and not pander to special interests. I have never been, and never will be, obedient to special interests, especially those that seek to punish independent thought.”
Not surprisingly, Wayne Hoffman of the conservative-based Idaho Freedom Foundation, has a different view.
“One can always blame me or the ACU for scorecards, but facts are facts,” said Hoffman, whose organization has scorched Malek with its ratings. Hoffman says ACU’s 2015 ratings – where Malek had such a high score – overlooked transportation and tax bills.
“Since then, the ACU has done a fantastic job selecting bills to survey, bills that are representative of efforts to limit government or grow government at the Idaho Statehouse,” Hoffman said.
“I like Luke. He’s a nice guy. We have worked on legislation together in the past and I hope we can again in the future,” Hoffman said. But he challenges Malek’s claims of being a conservative.
“Do people care? Most certainly,” Hoffman says. “I hear all the time from people who say they’re tired of politicians who talk about cutting government, but do the opposite.”
Ian Walters, a spokesman for the Washington-based ACU, agrees the ratings should have relevance to voters. “Congressman Raul Labrador has a 95 percent lifetime rating with the ACU, and we would hope that whoever holds that seat has strong conservative credentials, much like Congressman Labrador.”
Walters says the ACU marked down Malek on several bills, including his vote “to criminalize interpreting American sign language without a license. This strikes us as an unnecessary regulation on people who are trying to work and earn a living. He also voted for an Obama-sponsored welfare eligibility program and corporate subsidies. He voted against reforms to Idaho’s asset forfeiture laws and against a state sales tax reduction (on groceries),” Walters said.
At this point, Malek is the only candidate with a record with the ACU. His two major opponents, former Lt. Gov. Dave Leroy and former state Sen. Russ Fulcher, are not attacking Malek’s record. But both say it’s important for Idaho’s First District to have a conservative voice in Congress.
“To that end, I have already met with the American Conservative Union leadership in Washington to discuss my campaign and credentials with them,” Leroy said.
Fulcher, a former board member of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, says he’s never had to worry about ratings. “I have been consistent and my actions have unequivocally promoted positions that empower people – not government. However, I do believe that rating systems are useful and can provide an indication as to a candidate’s future behavior.”
I doubt if the ACU ratings, past or present, will change many people’s minds. Those who think Malek is too liberal to serve in Congress, have another reason to oppose him. Those on the more moderate end will think that a balanced voting record, and an open mind, are strong points for a congressional candidate.
It will be interesting to see how the conservative ratings play out in the campaign, or in the political advertising, as the May primary election draws closer.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at email@example.com