EXCLUSIVE: The House Freedom Caucus, which has wielded significant clout for years as it sought to keep Republican leadership tied to conservative principles and policies and push for smaller government across the board, is expanding its reach into state legislatures with a new network designed to help set up similar caucuses at the state level.
The State Freedom Caucus Network will be run by veteran Republican strategist Andy Roth and House Freedom Caucus Executive Director Justin Ouimette, and has the direct support of the House Freedom Caucus itself.
Launching this month, the network will help establish caucuses in states across the country and offer financial support, staffing and other resources to conservative lawmakers who may be bucking their own party leadership and need help in the uphill climb they may face in doing so.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., who will become chairman of the House Freedom Caucus in January, told Fox News in an interview that he had heard a desire from state lawmakers for such a movement for years, but until now there had not been a structure.
"It did seem like the logical progression of things to do, especially right now when the Republicans are in the minority, to further the goals and the reach and the breadth and depth of the Freedom Caucus and have these state affiliates," he said.
It comes at a time when Republicans are fighting a plethora of battles on a range of issues from COVID-19 mandates and restrictions to enormous spending at the federal level, as well as ongoing fights on issues like illegal immigration and election integrity.
"The one thing we have recognized is that not a lot of attention is placed at the state level, which means that leadership and the establishment is able to just run roughshod over conservatives in order to achieve their agenda, and that means isolating them, dividing them and keeping them in the dark, so even with just a little bit of organization, we believe we can achieve quite a bit," Roth said.
The current chairman of the House caucus, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said the effort began in 2020 when he saw difficulties conservatives were having not only at federal level but also at the state level.
"Stage legislatures were having difficulties sometimes with their executive office of the governors, they were fighting the federal government, whether it be with mandated lockdowns or implied mandated lockdowns...and having served in the state legislature in Arizona for a while, it seemed to me we spend so much time responding to federal issues, it would be good if we could get some synergy back and forth and open up communication that might be more direct between the Freedom Caucus and conservative members of Congress and the conservative members of the state legislatures," he said.
"We grappled with how best to do that, and once we came to this idea that we should have state affiliated freedom caucuses, and then the question was how do you implement, how do you create the infrastructure to do that, and that's what we've been working on for quite some time," he said.
The network will have three entities. The first is the State Freedom Caucus Foundation -- an educational arm to train lawmakers on policy and procedure, and how to use the rules in the state to effect conservative policy outcomes.
The second is the State Freedom Caucus Network itself, which the organizers describe as the "mothership." The network will look for conservatives in a state who want to organize, locate an executive director and provide support to them.
"Our members at the congressional level found willing individual partners in state legislatures, but very few that had any level of organization to mobilize on these issues nationally or take help, so they were anxious to have something to support that would fill that gap," Ouimette said.
Finally, there is the State Freedom Caucus Action -- which is designed to help protect caucus members from attacks from what they describe as the establishment. The entity will be the political arm to defend members from retaliation in primaries and general elections, while also moving into other races to expand caucus numbers.
That opposition is likely to be intense, if it is reflective of what faced members in the House caucus. Former Republican Speaker John Boehner famously fumed over the caucus to Vanity Fair, calling caucus co-founders Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan an "idiot" and a "terrorist," respectively.
"They can’t tell you what they’re for. They can tell you everything they’re against," Boehner told the liberal outlet. "They’re anarchists. They want total chaos. Tear it all down and start over. That’s where their mindset is."
It’s a characterization that caucus members have consistently rejected, with Perry telling Fox that the movement is about holding leaders accountable to the promises they made during election cycles. He said that those who participate in the caucuses must also be problem solvers.
"You have to be able to get to yes because we have to solve the problems for the American people, but you also have to be willing to vote against your own leadership," he said. "It’s easy to vote against the other side's leadership but it's tough to vote against your own leadership and hold them accountable."
"It’s about transparency, accountability of leadership and it's about doing what you told your constituents you would do," he said.
The organizers see fertile ground at state level, where they believe an organized establishment has been able to push over lawmakers who are often isolated, part-time and underfunded.
"Our ability to effect change is going to be massive, just because these states that have never experienced the kind of organization and structure that the State House Freedom Caucus network has," Roth said. "Bringing that is going to have a huge impact."
"The things they do they could never get away with if they had a group like the House Freedom Caucus within the legislature, fighting for their own procedural rights and fighting for the rights of their constituents," Ouimette said. "And when we show [conservatives] all the tools they have and give them the backing to use them and the messaging backup both in state and in Washington, D.C., that they’re doing the right thing, it’s going to come as a shock to the system of a lot of those establishment powers."