Newcomer has District 15 incumbent on the run

The West Boise race is representative of this year's GOP clashes.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comMay 17, 2014 

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Diego Rodriguez doesn't support college because "it sets up false expectations and fails most students," calls property taxes "immoral," and says Idahoans must "wean ourselves off the beast" of government.

"Education isn't even a legitimate role of government anyway," said the first-time candidate challenging Sen. Fred Martin of Boise in Tuesday's GOP primary. "Where is it in the U.S. Constitution? Where did our founders promote that the role of government is to educate the public? It's not part of our history and it doesn't work."

Rodriguez, 36, is a salesman, professional speaker and former volunteer pastor who moved from Fresno, Calif., in 2011, with his wife, whom he describes as "smoking hot" in campaign literature, and their children.

The founder of the Power Marketing Consultants Network, which he calls the "largest network of professional marketing agencies in the world," Rodriguez has run a sophisticated campaign keyed by about 10 mailings to 1,860 likely-to-vote GOP households.

The contest in a Senate district with a history of electing pro-education Republicans is perhaps the hottest down-ticket example of the clash between the Idaho GOP's tea party wing and the establishment headed by Gov. Butch Otter.

Martin, who succeeded 18-year veteran moderate GOP Sen. John Andreason in 2012, said he's worried.

"I think it's very close," said Martin, 64, a former Army medic, retired teacher, businessman and aide to former Congressman George Hansen, an Idaho conservative icon. "I'm very concerned."

'STATE VERSION OF OBAMACARE'

Sen. Russ Fulcher, Otter's principal challenger, picked Rodriguez to introduce him at his November campaign announcement. Like Fulcher, Rodriguez said Otter's state-run health insurance exchange was his chief motive for running.

In a recent mailing, conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are pictured as opponents of the exchange, as are Fulcher and secretary of state candidate Lawerence Denney, attorney general hopeful Chris Troupis and controller candidate Todd Hatfield.

The flier wrongly claims "the majority of Idaho Republican legislators" opposed Otter's bill. In fact, Martin's was among 45 GOP yes votes in 2013; 40 voted no.

The mailer dubs the exchange "simply the state version of Obamacare." Otter and Martin repeatedly have said they oppose the Affordable Care Act - Otter was among the first to sue to overturn it. But after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, Otter and Martin backed Your Health Idaho, saying they preferred a locally run exchange to one operated by the federal government.

In another flier, Rodriguez focuses on Martin's poor standing in the eyes of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the loudest critic of Otter's bill.

He calls Martin "more liberal than five of the seven of the Democrats in the Senate," in the IFF's "Freedom Index" for 2013, which heavily weighted votes on the exchange. Rodriguez ignores the 2014 rankings, which put Martin ahead of five Democrats and eight of the 27 other Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Bart Davis of Idaho Falls.

'WORST THINGS' SAID

In a third mailing, Rodriguez says Martin's "voting record is not pro-life" because he joined 18 Republicans and six Democrats in voting against a procedural motion to delay a floor vote on Otter's exchange bill to consider possible amendments, including what Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, called the "Religious Liberty Amendment."

"I consider myself 100 percent pro-life," said Martin, a former LDS seminary teacher who has an associate degree from the church-run Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). "I have deep religious and personal convictions about the sanctity of life."

Martin has countered Rodriguez by knocking on the doors of about 4,000 GOP households at least once and returning for a second pass in the final weeks.

"The worst thing you can say about a Republican is that they're for Obamacare, they're for abortion, they're liberal and they're against the constitution," Martin said.

But Martin says he'd "rather lose than to attack" Rodriguez.

"I never, ever mention my opponent," he said. "This has been one of the worst experiences of my life. And it has been part of my own doing because I won't speak out against him, period."

Martin has responded generally, saying in a mailing that "some have recklessly attacked my conservative record." Martin's piece said he is pro-life; has an "A-" from the NRA; supports balanced budgets, lower taxes and less regulation; and that he "fought to stop Obamacare and protect states' rights."

Martin was the Senate floor sponsor of House Joint Memorial 6 this year, which urged the president and Congress to suspend Affordable Care Act taxes on the health care industry.

PROUD COLLEGE DROPOUT

Asked directly about Rodriguez's views on education, Martin said: "I find it troublesome that he feels the government has no role in public schools."

Martin recited Article IX, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution: "The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools."

Rodriguez said all government regulations and standards required for schools should be lifted - "every single one" - and said each school or district should "do whatever they want to educate the children in their school."

"We've destroyed the teacher's ability to teach," Rodriguez said. "We crush their hopes, destroy their dreams. ... I am the biggest advocate for education you'll ever find - I just don't advocate government-controlled education because it always manipulates and plunders. It hurts teachers, parents and mostly students."

All five Rodriguez children are home-schooled.

Rodriguez says in campaign literature that he was a high school valedictorian and Rodman Scholar at Fresno State, an honor awarded to 25 students a year that included a full-ride scholarship. He left college after a few weeks and went to work selling pagers.

"Tell the world I'm a college dropout," he said. "I am an outspoken advocate of education who promotes personal development and educational advancement without the need for four-year universities which I don't even support. ... In short, I don't support going to college for most people."

VIEWS ON TAXES

Property taxes are "immoral," Rodriguez said, "Only God holds the title deed to this Earth and at best we are just stewards."

He also opposes corporate and personal income taxes. "I say let's eliminate corporate tax, income tax, property tax, etc., and move towards a stable sales tax," he writes in his Freedom Foundation questionnaire.

Replacing that money on a revenue-neutral basis would mean raising the current 6 percent sales tax to 21 percent. If groceries were exempted from sales tax, as Rodriguez supports, the sales tax would have to be 25 percent to compensate.

Rodriguez said he wouldn't support such a radical shift immediately, but would move to cut spending on K-12 schools, higher education and other programs.

"I wish it could be done overnight, but it can't," he said. "Giant monsters move and die slowly."

Rodriguez acknowledges he's "more of a loose and free spirit than most."

He's never been to a legislative hearing. The one time he briefly attended a Senate session - waiting in the gallery to meet Martin for lunch - "it was so boring and dull that I even questioned whether or not I should run because I doubt I could stand being in those sessions all day."

The winner of the Rodriguez-Martin race will face Democrat Richard Keller in the November general election. Keller reported raising no campaign money as of May 4. Rodriguez reported spending $12,400; Martin reported spending about $9,600.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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