By now, most Americans are familiar with the House Freedom Caucus, a coalition of conservative representatives who disrupt the reckless policies put forward by the “uniparty” running Washington, D.C. But flying under the radar of national politics is a growing movement aiming to replicate the group’s strategy throughout the country.
The State Freedom Caucus Network (SFCN) is a nationwide organization aimed at creating freedom caucuses in America’s 50 state legislatures and advancing conservative policies. Spanning 11 states and comprised of more than 160 lawmakers, the coalition is spearheaded by SFCN President Andy Roth, who has worked on Capitol Hill for roughly 20 years and was previously affiliated with Club for Growth.
The idea of a State Freedom Caucus Network came not long after the HFC formed in 2015, and state lawmakers running for Congress expressed to Roth a desire to have such a coalition in their state legislatures. The question became: “Why don’t we have something like that at the state level?” Roth told The Federalist. “So, after talking with Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. — who was the chair of the House Freedom Caucus [at the time] — and with other folks, we decided that we needed to formally do it.”
The SFCN was founded in December 2021.
While Republicans currently control 23 state trifectas, an in-depth analysis published by The Daily Wire in April 2023 revealed that many so-called “red states” are run by GOP-dominated legislatures that are not as conservative as they should be. An investigation into Wyoming’s Republican legislators’ voting records, for example, “found that 31 legislators were ‘very liberal’ — and all but two of them had Rs behind their name,” meaning 29 Republicans were “further to the left of three Democrats, who were merely ‘liberal.’”
The analysis also found that South Carolina and Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislatures had more liberal voting records than their GOP counterparts in “blue” states such as Delaware and New York. Meanwhile, Florida and Wisconsin Republicans were listed as those with the most conservative voting records.
The SFCN is hoping to change this dynamic by developing freedom caucuses in state legislatures throughout the country to enact more conservative policies. While participating lawmakers introduce and push conservative legislation, the national wing of the SFCN works to provide resources and support traditionally enjoyed by the GOP establishment.
“When you have the establishment with all the resources pushing big government bills, and the people that are supposed to defend us have no resources” during the short time state legislatures are in session, “it’s no [wonder] that we keep losing,” Roth said. “What we do is give the state freedom caucuses the support they need to fight back.”
According to Roth, this support comes in the form of state directors, who read introduced legislation, provide vote recommendations, and “help build coalition support” for good policies. The SFCN also provides communications assistance by taking a “state issue and mak[ing] it national [news].”
The Establishment Strikes Back
Having been able to evade accountability from voters for years, many establishment Republicans have unsurprisingly begun to retaliate against their more conservative colleagues.
After candidates backed by the South Carolina Freedom Caucus (SCFC) defeated several GOP incumbents in the state’s June 2022 primaries, for instance, Republican legislative leadership leaped into action to protect the status quo. Rather than respect the wishes of voters and their colleagues’ endorsements, GOP leaders introduced a “loyalty pledge” in December 2022 that sought to prohibit incumbent Republicans from campaigning against a fellow Republican running for reelection.
After refusing to sign onto the rule, 16 South Carolina Freedom Caucus representatives were expelled from the Republican caucus by the House’s GOP leadership.
“It’s a ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ system. … You very much see universal agreement, very top-down control from leadership,” South Carolina Freedom Caucus chair and Republican Rep. Adam Morgan told The Federalist. “Conservatives are often ostracized or held back on committee assignments that conservative legislation rarely moves or even gets hearings in South Carolina.”
The newly formed Missouri Freedom Caucus (MOFC) is also finding out how entrenched the GOP establishment is in their state. Earlier this month, four members of the caucus pushed the Republican-controlled Senate to invoke a procedure to allow the body to “debate legislation making it harder to pass a constitutional amendment by initiative petition.” After the Senate rejected the motion, MOFC members orchestrated an 11-hour filibuster on several of Gov. Mike Parson’s appointees, arguing that, as the Missouri Independent described, “very few bills of any kind were being referred to committees and that GOP priorities were being lost.”
Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, a Republican, threw a tantrum in response, stripping the MOFC members of their committee chairs and grossly labeling them as “a small group of swamp creatures.” Rowden also assigned the four senators “to parking spots as far from the Missouri Capitol building as possible.”
“It’s never been about policy for them,” MOFC member and GOP Sen. Bill Eigel said. “It’s been about individuals trying to preserve power at the expense of what we believe are the issues that Republicans sent us to Jefferson City for.”
Members of Idaho’s Freedom Caucus have also been stripped of committee positions and rebuked by the state’s Republican legislative leadership for criticizing their moderate colleagues and pushing conservative policies. Similarly, Georgia Freedom Caucus member, GOP Sen. Colton Moore, was suspended from the Senate Republican Caucus in September after he called for a special legislative session to investigate Fulton County DA Fani Willis for indicting former President Donald Trump.
Making a Difference
Much to the GOP establishment’s disappointment, the SFCN and its participating lawmakers have scored numerous victories since the group’s inception.
In South Carolina, the state’s freedom caucus successfully pressured the Medical University of South Carolina’s “pediatric transgender clinic” into halting all “pediatric/adolescent transgender hormonal care” in December 2022. More recently, the South Carolina Freedom Caucus teamed up with former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines to pressure the GOP-controlled legislature into adopting an amendment to a bill banning so-called “gender affirming care” for minors. The amendment — which more than 60 House Republicans initially voted to scrap — would penalize doctors for providing these destructive procedures to children.
“We’re not afraid to call out members when they have bad votes [or] when they engage in crony schemes to try to hide things from voters,” Rep. Adam Morgan said. While Morgan said the South Carolina Freedom Caucus would like to pass legislation banning DEI in higher education and reforming the judiciary during the 2024 session, it’s currently fighting the legislature’s attempt to appoint James Smith as a judge on the state’s 5th Judicial Circuit.
Smith was South Carolina Democrats’ 2018 gubernatorial nominee and is an “advocate” for Planned Parenthood.
Momentum also appears to be shifting in conservatives’ favor in Wyoming. Last year, the state’s GOP leadership killed various conservative bills, one of which would have instituted school choice. Following pressure from the Wyoming Freedom Caucus (WYFC), the legislature’s establishment members have since introduced measures “during the interim legislative session that look similar to bills the Freedom Caucus proposed last spring that were defeated,” as Cowboy State Daily reported.
WYFC chair and Republican Rep. John Bear, however, told Cowboy State Daily that several of these bills “have been tainted with ‘poison pills,’” and vowed to introduce the original versions of the legislation sponsored by the WYFC last year.
The Path Forward
But the SFCN is just getting started. The organization seeks to expand its operations to other states throughout the country, according to Roth, who indicated that states such as Texas, Ohio, and Oklahoma “look good” for forming new caucuses. Other so-called “red” states are proving more challenging, however.
“The tragedy is that there are a lot of states that should have freedom caucuses that are nowhere close,” Roth said. “States like Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky — these are deep red states. … Unfortunately, those states have just been institutionalized by the uniparty that there’s just no real opportunities there.”
Given these circumstances, Roth emphasized the importance of citizen involvement, specifically highlighting how electing conservative figures and advancing good policy requires ongoing participation from the American people.
The best way people can help move the SFCN’s mission forward is to see “if their state has a freedom caucus, and if it does, then they need … to do everything that they can to support them,” Roth said. “If their state doesn’t have a freedom caucus, then they need to reach out to their state lawmakers and ask them why. Because it’s not us — the suits from D.C. — coming into states and saying, ‘You have to form a freedom caucus.’ We can only work with lawmakers who want to do this.”
Our members are “fighting for what their voters want, and they could get annihilated in the primaries if we don’t do a good enough job of fighting back against [these establishment Republicans] and exposing them,” Roth added.
Shawn Fleetwood is a staff writer for The Federalist and a graduate of the University of Mary Washington. He previously served as a state content writer for Convention of States Action and his work has been featured in numerous outlets, including RealClearPolitics, RealClearHealth, and Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnFleetwood
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