Greg Collett happily calls his political views "extreme." But he wasn't prepared for condemnation from his allies after word that all his home-schooled children are on Medicaid became an Internet sensation.
Collett, twice a candidate for the Idaho Legislature in Canyon County, isn't surprised he's been excoriated on left-wing websites including Gawker, BuzzFlash, Daily Kos and Americans Against the Tea Party.
But he's also heard criticism from those who share his anti-government views for having taxpayers foot medical bills for eight adopted and two biological children, ages 4 to 17.
In contrast, Collett and his wife, Kelly, say they will pay the fine rather than buy insurance for themselves under the Affordable Care Act.
"I attracted all the attention of all the people who hate Republicans and the tea party," said Collett, a 41-year-old freelance software developer and University of Idaho alum. "I've also attracted the attention of a lot of people in the liberty movement that don't want to see anybody on welfare."
Things got so bad, Collett said, he had to clean up his Facebook account and remove contact information from his campaign website. "The level of hatred is just absolutely incredible," he said. "Messages on my website, emails, I've even had phone calls. It's been pretty intense."
Online comments have labeled Collett a hypocrite, moron, mentally unstable, immoral and unethical, along with frequently profane epithets. "He should have been sterilized years ago," said one.
Actually, fertility plays a role in the Colletts' story. For five years, they were foster parents. Both underwent fertility treatments. In the same year they adopted five children, they had their first biological child. Three more adoptions followed, then their youngest was born four years ago.
"In our case, we wanted a large family to make us complete," Kelly Collett told the Statesman in 2009. Seven of the eight adopted children were in foster care: four from a Midwestern state, three from a Southern state. The eighth was a private adoption through LDS Family Services. Three of the eight are Hispanic and some are siblings. The Colletts are white.
Ronalee Linsenmann, of Caldwell, knows Collett from the 2012 campaign, when both were challenging incumbents and the Collett kids were helping their dad.
"His children were the most respectful, well-behaved children you could ever be around," she said. "They obviously have a very, very loving family."
Collett, who is preparing to run for the Legislature again, wound up in the news because he was one of 1,503 people who answered a Kaiser/NBC poll in September about attitudes about the Affordable Care Act. He told the surveyor he'd be willing to talk to a reporter.
He was the first person quoted in an Oct. 4 NBC story, "Health care holdouts: uninsured but resisting." Collett acknowledged the controversial nature of his views. "There are a lot of people out there that'll cry foul," he said.
The story was republished on many websites. The next day, Collett posted a 2,900-word response on his campaign site.
"For those of you who insist that I take the kids off of Medicaid, please feel free to get them off by terminating the entire program," he wrote.
Gawker revived the story on Wednesday. The online community Reddit picked up a Statesman story Thursday, helping drive more than 24,000 hits. Between Tuesday and Thursday, Collett said, 6,000 people clicked on his essay.
'I WOULDN'T HAVE A LIFE'
Collett says he understands those who call him a hypocrite, but says he can't easily escape what he calls an "evil government" and a "shadow oligarchy masquerading as a democracy."
Public schools are "the granddaddy of all welfare programs" but still, he says, he uses their facilities. He also recreates on public lands and uses public transportation and libraries. Though he opposes them, he carries a driver's license, registration and mandatory auto insurance.
"If I couldn't participate in anything that I didn't agree with that the government was involved in, then I couldn't be married, I wouldn't have kids, I wouldn't own property," Collett told the Statesman. "Basically, I wouldn't have a life."
If it makes "financial sense" for him to buy insurance under the Your Health Idaho exchange, Collett says he'll do so.
As for enrolling the kids in Medicaid — the federal-state low-income health insurance program that many of his friends call welfare — he said, "I'm OK taking whatever I can from the government that's available to me. I'm not going to lie and scam the system, but I'm OK with redirecting that money away from morally reprehensible things and direct it towards me."
Collett cited the "murder" in funding abortion and "unjust" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of things he finds objectionable.
He said none of the children have had major illnesses. "I qualify for it. Seven of them came with Medicaid cards from foster care. To a large degree it's a matter of practicality."
As for his political aspirations, Collett said he's considering a rematch with Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, who beat him 65 percent to 35 percent in last year's GOP primary.
But he's also eyeing Sen. Patti Anne Lodge of Huston and Rep. Christy Perry of Nampa.
"I'd be happy to go up against any of them," he said.
He said the flap over health care "could certainly affect the race."
"Some people have vowed to "do everything they can to support my opponent, whoever it is," he said.
But Collett sees a silver lining: "At least my message is getting out there."