My former Idaho Statesman colleague, Wayne Hoffman, has become a celebrated lobbyist, leading the fight against Gov. Butch Otter’s bill to establish a state-run health insurance exchange.
Hoffman’s Idaho Freedom Foundation also operates an online news site, IdahoReporter.com, which has been denied credentials by the Capitol Correspondents Association because its parent is a lobbying organization. The Legislature’s rules delegate credentialing authority to the association; I made the motion to deny credentials to the group in 2010.
Last month, I wrote a story that noted Hoffman’s reporters were wearing the brown tags that signify a credentialed reporter. In a hallway exchange with Hoffman, I asked him about the use of the tags, using air quotes around “your reporters.” I admit to the provocation, as Hoffman and I have known one another for many years. Hoffman’s reply was a shout. “Don’t demean me!” he said. “They’re reporters. They wear brown tags.”
Fast forward to today’s Senate Commerce & Human Resources Committee meeting where the panel voted 8-1, after two days of hearings, to approve Senate Bill 1042, Otter’s exchange bill.
One of Hoffman’s reporters following Thursday’s hearing was Mitch Coffman, who on Tuesday posted video of Hoffman’s testimony to the committee in opposition to the bill. Coffman’s colleague, Austin Hill, wrote the text for IdahoReporter’s coverage of Day 1 of the hearing.
On Thursday afternoon, Coffman spent the latter part of the meeting disparaging the Senate’s senior member, Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Cameron made the motion to send SB 1042 to the full Senate with a recommendation for passage.
“Sen. Cameron is off his rocker, as usual,” began Coffman in a series of Twitter posts on his @mitchcoffman account.
Then, “Get off your soap box Cameron!!!”
Then, when questioned about his journalistic impartiality by my Statesman colleague, Cynthia Sewell, Coffman replied, “I’m impatient and this is going to the floor, where I feel this type of debate should be had,” and “This is twitter, not an article being written.”
(Coffman’s Twitter account was apparently down late this afternoon, after I posted this blog. The account was available again Thursday evening.)
After three hours of hearings, Cameron spoke for just under seven minutes on behalf of his motion and in response to opposition to the bill from Democratic Sen. Branden Durst of Boise. Sure, participatory democracy is slow going — it’s meant to be that way — but Cameron’s comments on the most controversial issue of the session were no filibuster.
Coffman is far more familiar with Twitter than me. Surely he knows he created a permanent record, including the assertion that Cameron, the co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee “is off his rocker, as usual.”
That sort of commentary is beyond the pale for a reporter. Hoffman has argued that there’s a wall between the Freedom Foundation’s lobbying work and IdahoReporter. Coffman’s conduct makes it clear the wall has been breached.