Wayne Hoffman 

Idaho Freedom Foundation director talks taxes, journalism and his growing influence

Wayne Hoffman reads a lot of newspapers. He calls himself a journalism addict, although he's not really a fan of his former profession. By his own admission, he has "problems" with Boise Weekly, yet there are still a few news outlets he favors. Take idahoreporter.com. He thinks that's a fine source of news. He should: He's the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, parent of Idahoreporter.

In only two years of existence, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has become a visible influence at the Idaho Legislature by lobbying and even crafting legislation that would nullify what he calls "Obamacare," strip down the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and reform Idaho classrooms.

BW sat down with Hoffman at the Statehouse to talk about politics and journalism.

When you were growing up, what was the big dream for you?

I wanted to be Dan Rather. I wanted to be one of those enterprising reporters that asked the right questions to uncover all kinds of important facts.

Did you become that reporter?

I think I did. I worked in radio, television and print: 18 years of journalism. That ended when it became more about filling pages and less about doing hard-core watchdog journalism.

Was that a slow bleed or was it a particular event that made your mind up?

I met Ralph Smeed [limited government evangelist who died in September 2010]. He said, "I guarantee you're not an objective journalist."

And he proved that you weren't?

Oh yeah. He gave me materials on free markets and the proper role of government. Until then, I was sure that government's role was to help people. But it became more about how government is guilty of legal plunder, taking things from people by legal means.

Did you want to change things from the inside or did you recognize that it was best that you leave the profession?

The people who spend their time talking about objective journalism aren't really doing it. They spend most of their time in newsrooms saluting and celebrating the status point of view. Look at your daily newscasts and your daily newspaper. So many stories are nothing more than how some government agency is doing something and how it's justified.

You must see exceptions to that.

There's an exception to every rule, but I think a lot of journalists are naive. They think government is there to do something good. I've since learned that it's not an accurate portrayal.

In August 2008 you said some pretty nasty things about one of your past employers, the Idaho Press-Tribune. In an Op-Ed piece, you wrote, "The Press-Tribune has regrettably joined the chorus of shrill new lemmings, all marching willingly to a sea of liberalism, filth and innuendo." That was pretty rough.

Actually I like the line a lot. But let me say this: That was in response to an editorial that was written about me. I regret having public debates with people where insults are being hurled. It goes outside the bounds of what is appropriate. I now regret being personally insulting to the editor of the Press-Tribune. I shouldn't have used those words.

After leaving journalism you worked for the Department of Agriculture and then worked on political campaigns for Tom Luna and Bill Sali and eventually became Rep. Sali's spokesman.

Bill's a wonderful person. I learned a lot from that experience. Not just how Congress operates but how the national media operates.

What do you mean by that?

They all feed off of one another. One tiny bit of misinformation would be spread from news outlet to news outlet. People would talk about how Bill Sali was a horrible person and no one could get along with him. I would ask reporters where they got that from, and they'd look at me blankly.

I know that you have two children. Are they in public schools?

Yes, I have a fifth grader and a seventh grader.

Are you satisfied with their education?

No. We're still teaching like it's 1975.

I'm presuming you're a fan of Tom Luna's plan to reform Idaho classrooms?

I'm a very big fan. We're going to end the process of closed-door union negotiations.

And the proposal to increase class sizes?

There's a lot of rhetoric on this issue.

Are you saying that you've seen no research or are you saying that there is no research that rings true for you?

I'm saying that there are anecdotes from across the country that say larger class sizes indicate greater success.

Let's talk about the nullification bill. You must know that Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has indicated that it may be unconstitutional.

Let me clarify that. His opinion was not on our bill but rather a concept.

Look, I know you don't like the word "Obamacare."

How do you know I don't like that word? I usually call it what it is: the Affordable Care Act.

Well, what our bill is saying is that Idaho can assert its own rights here. No one even knows what's in the thousands of pages in that act.

Doesn't your bill block spending of federal dollars to facilitate the law?

That's exactly what it does. And it would stop agencies from passing new regulations to implement the act.

[Editor's Note: On Friday, Feb. 25, the Senate State Affairs Committee decided, by voice vote, to kill House Bill 117, the so-called nullification measure.]

What is the formal relationship between the Idaho Freedom Foundation and idahoreporter.com?

Idahoreporter is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. I really don't control the day-to-day content.

But the editor reports to you.

It's like any other news organization where the publisher doesn't control the editorial content.

So what's the best way to characterize your influence on the content?

I freely admit that I have a vision for Idahoreporter, but I don't think having a vision means that I dictate what the stories look like. I want to cover stories that aren't being covered or aren't getting enough attention. I want to hold people accountable. I want to put issues to a truth test.

It's common knowledge that you want your reporters to have the same credentials and privileges as the rest of the Capitol Press Corps, but if you're crafting or influencing legislation and there's a line between the Freedom Foundation and Idahoreporter, do you not see where the gray area is?

My reporters are here at the Capitol every day. No one disputes they do a good job. Yet, they're not allowed on the floor of the House or Senate. Look, there are plenty of reporters in these hallways that are credentialed, yet they've done plenty of lobbying.

Formal or informal lobbying?

A little of both.

What do you plan on doing with that information?

Stay tuned.

Is there anything worth increasing taxes over?

No. Nothing.

Sin taxes?

Nope. I'm guessing you're driving at a cigarette tax.

I doubt Idaho would raise that much revenue by raising taxes on alcohol or wine.

OK. But why should we tax smokers? Because we can? And what is this all about government doing social planning? What's next? Sugary sodas? Sandwiches with white bread? To me, cigarettes are in that vein.

But cigarette tax revenues could get sent to a dedicated fund for Health and Welfare. And Health and Welfare is in deep trouble.

I wonder what that really means.

It means that they're in deep trouble securing the appropriate funds to maintain services.

Well then, they should absolutely cut those services. For years, we've been adding program after program. Government is notorious for spending money on programs without being concerned about the end result. Government should be a final safety net.

But isn't it fair to say that there are, in fact, final safety nets inside Health and Welfare?

Sure. But there are also programs that are helping people who are able-bodied and have means. Take, for example, SCHIP [the State Children's Health Insurance program]. That could go away tomorrow and life would go on.

More than one person has told me that you've become one of the most influential non-elected persons in this building.

No kidding. Well, my goal is to present ideas and to foster discussion.

Might we see you on a ballot someday?

People do ask that of me. It's not something I'm terribly interested in right now. I've got two young kids I want to raise. Actually, I've got my three young kids. My daughter, my son and my 2-year-old, the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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