Where will Idaho’s next governor stand on gay marriage, religious rights?

Several 2018 Idaho candidates for governor. Clockwise from upper left: Tommy Ahlquist, Raul Labrador, Brad Little, A.J. Balukoff, Paulette Jordan.
Several 2018 Idaho candidates for governor. Clockwise from upper left: Tommy Ahlquist, Raul Labrador, Brad Little, A.J. Balukoff, Paulette Jordan.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador’s announcement this month that, as governor, he would “defend traditional Idaho values” echoed a discussion on social issues that wound through Gov. Butch Otter’s three terms.

Among the most prominent examples, Otter fought in court to defend Idaho’s 2006 constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. He lost — and so did taxpayers, who had to shell out more than $700,000 in legal fees.

In the race to succeed Otter, the Statesman asked four other leading candidates where they stand on the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling and other hot-button issues.

GOP candidates include Eagle businessman Tommy Ahlquist, a political newcomer; Labrador, who served in the Idaho House from 2007 to 2010 and has been in Congress since 2011; and Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who served in the state Senate from 2001 through 2009, when he was appointed lieutenant governor.

Democratic candidates include A.J. Balukoff, a Boise School District trustee since 1997 who unsuccessfully challenged Otter in 2014; and former North Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan, who was in her fourth year as a state lawmaker until she resigned earlier this month to focus on her campaign.

Q: If elected, would you challenge the Supreme Court’s decision on the ability of states to define marriage?

The issue: Otter took his battle to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Their rulings legalized gay marriage in Idaho months before the U.S. Supreme Court did the same in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Ahlquist: “I believe that marriage should be the union of a man and a woman. As our governor, I will support policies that promote and safeguard the traditional institution of marriage. I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court decision on this issue. If something changes that allows a viable legal option to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision, I will pursue that. I will not, however, waste taxpayer dollars pursuing frivolous lawsuits that have no chance of success.”

Balukoff: “With all of the challenges that Idaho faces, it makes no sense to waste time and taxpayer money challenging an issue that has already been settled.”

Jordan: “As governor, I would not challenge the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. Marriage is a fundamental right for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or geographic location. No one’s home state should preclude them from accessing the same rights and freedoms as their fellow citizens in a neighboring state.”

Labrador: “Strong families improve our communities, our state and our nation. As governor, I’ll actively look for ways to strengthen healthy families and foster policies that result in resilient communities. I will also actively look for an opportunity to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision that interfered with our state sovereignty and took away states’ ability to define marriage.”

Little: “While serving in the Senate, I voted to adopt the language defining marriage in the Idaho Constitution. It is the role of the governor to defend our constitution and laws, and I will look for every opportunity to do so. We need a Republican president and Senate to put people on the Supreme Court who uphold our (U.S.) Constitution as our founders intended.”

What you should know: In 2004 and 2005, then-Sen. Little voted against resolutions to amend the Idaho Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. Both resolutions failed to pass. In 2006, he voted in support of a third version of the resolution, which cleared the Legislature and which voters passed that November. The amendment is still in the state constitution but was overturned in federal court.

Ahlquist’s website in early 2017 included a pledge to “fight to protect Idaho’s right to define marriage within our state.” He removed that wording last summer after questions about how he would pursue it.

Q: Where do you stand on enacting legislation protecting citizens from civil action for exercising their religious beliefs?

The issue: Across the country, some businesses, doctors and other service providers have been sued for refusing to provide services to gay people, women seeking birth control and others because it goes against their religious beliefs. And there’s been the reverse: In 2016, when same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho, a Coeur d’Alene church challenged the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance in federal court, fearing officials would come after it for not performing same-sex marriages. The city said the church is exempt from the ordinance.

Ahlquist: “As a former lay minister in my faith, I understand and have witnessed firsthand the assault across the nation on people of all faiths. As governor, I’ll do everything I can to protect religious freedom.”

Jordan: “I believe in the right to religious freedom, but I do not support religion as an excuse for bigotry. LGBTQ folks are entitled to the same legal protections against discrimination that women, people of color, people with disabilities, and religious minorities have fought for and won over the past century. Religious freedom laws should not permit businesses or individuals to unlawfully discriminate against their fellow taxpaying Idahoans on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Labrador: “All people have a fundamental God-given right to worship in accordance with one’s own beliefs. Our Constitution is designed to prevent the government from hindering the free exercise of religion. As governor, I will always protect the right of individuals, professionals, and private businesses to be free from government interference with their religious beliefs and will oppose legislation that puts Idahoans at risk of civil action for exercising their religious beliefs.”

Little: “I support protecting Idahoans’ rights of expression and exercise of their religious beliefs. Idaho enacted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act and I support that law. I would consider legislation that further protects Idahoans’ religious freedoms without violating the First Amendment freedoms of others.”

Balukoff did not respond to this question.

What you should know: In 2015, Labrador introduced in Congress the First Amendment Defense Act, which would give legal protection to people and entities that oppose gay marriage on religious grounds. As a candidate, President Donald Trump said he would sign the bill if Congress passed it. Congress has not moved on the legislation since Trump took office.

Q: Where do you stand on repealing Idaho’s “faith healing” exemption?

The issue: Idaho has come under national scrutiny as one of just two states with an exemption that protects parents from criminal or civil liability if, due to their religious beliefs, they do not seek medical care for their child and the child dies. The other state is Virginia. According to groups working to change the law, 183 children in Idaho have died under this exemption since it was enacted in the 1970s.

Ahlquist: “As a physician in the trenches of the ER whose responsibility was to save lives, I’ve seen the power of faith in medicine. But I also understand the need to provide life saving treatments to critical patients. I am confident that the right balance can be found to ensure we continue to protect parental rights while at the same time protecting precious lives when life-saving medical procedures are absolutely necessary.”

Balukoff: “Idahoans are free to practice whatever religion they choose, but we cannot put our children at risk by denying them proper healthcare that leads to serious illness or worse.”

Jordan: “If autonomous adults choose to forgo lifesaving medical treatment for religious reasons, they should be allowed to make that very personal decision. They should not, however, be able to make such a decision for their children. I support the repeal of Idaho’s ‘faith healing’ exemption because, above all else, our laws should protect the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable people in our state.”

Labrador: “Families, not government, should make health care decisions for their children.”

Little: “As a parent and grandparent, and a person who supports life, we go to great lengths to protect the lives of the unborn. While we should protect the right of exercising one’s religious beliefs, parents have responsibility to protect their children.”

What you should know: No faith-healing related bills came up for a hearing from 2002 to 2010 while Little and/or Labrador were in the Legislature. In 2014, Otter convened a Children at Risk task force to look at the issue, but no legislation came out of it. In 2017, the Senate tried to revise the exemption, but the effort failed.

Q: Where do you stand on ending funding for Planned Parenthood or other low-income, female reproductive health-care providers?

The issue: Under federal law, Medicaid does not cover abortions. And, Idaho does not allow state money to pay for abortions. Idaho has no clinics solely dedicated to abortions, but it does have Planned Parenthood offices that provide abortions among a range of female health care services, largely routine. Conservatives in Idaho and nationally have long sought to end public money to Planned Parenthood because of its abortion services.

Ahlquist: “Tax dollars should not go to Planned Parenthood or clinics that are providing abortions. There are great clinics and amazing services that provide low-income female reproductive health care that don’t also participate in abortions.”

Balukoff: “Planned Parenthood offers a variety of quality, low-cost healthcare services to men and women in Idaho. Its funding should not be cut.”

Jordan: “Planned Parenthood serves more than 7,000 Idahoans each year, and its services are essential. In addition to reproductive healthcare, Planned Parenthood provides cancer screenings to patients on a sliding cost scale, regardless of their ability to pay. For many people in Idaho, especially women, without sufficient healthcare coverage, a Planned Parenthood physician is the only medical provider they visit each year. If we cut funding to Planned Parenthood, we leave thousands of struggling families and individuals without the services they need to manage their own health.”

Labrador: “It is wrong to use taxpayer dollars to fund abortion clinics. As governor, I’ll work with the Legislature to stop state Medicaid dollars from reimbursing abortion clinics. Additionally, as governor, I’ll require abortion clinics in Idaho to be subject to the same stringent health inspections and medical certifications as hospitals and require each facility, including the doctors and staff that work there, to be medically qualified to provide the services offered at their facility.”

Little: “Idaho does not use state government dollars for funding abortion and that will continue while I am governor.”

Q: Where do you stand on enacting “stand your ground” legislation in Idaho?

The issue: “Stand your ground” is a self-defense law that allows someone to use deadly force, instead of retreating, if they feel their safety is threatened at work, in their vehicle or other public settings. It is based on the “castle doctrine,” a centuries-old law that allows someone to use deadly force while defending their home.

Ahlquist: “I absolutely support ‘stand your ground’. Every Idahoan has a fundamental right to defend themselves and their loved ones.”

Balukoff: “Legislation like this is unnecessary. Idahoans already have the legal right to protect themselves, their families, and their property.”

Jordan: “While I recently voted to allow our bipartisan House to further debate a ‘stand your ground’ bill due to appeals by my constituents, I do not support this legislation. The bill seeks to undo Idaho’s current gun laws, and as a gun owner myself, I am concerned by any attempt to loosen laws that enable us to protect ourselves. The fact is that similar ‘stand your ground’ policies in other states have led to increased homicide rates, especially amongst children and people of color. Enacting this reckless legislation would make Idaho less fair and less safe.”

Labrador: “Idaho must always defend the Second Amendment rights of our citizens. That is why I believe it is time to enact ‘stand your ground’ legislation in Idaho. Idaho should provide solid legal protection to people who must resort to deadly force in the protection of lives and property. As governor, I’ll support and promote legislation protecting law-abiding citizens who stand their ground, or use force without retreating, in defense of themselves, their families and their fellow Idahoans.”

Little: “The Legislature continues to debate expanding self-defense laws in Idaho code. I would be supportive of a bill that provides a reasonable standard in removing the duty to flee in Idaho’s self-defense laws.”

What you should know: Two bills expanding Idaho’s self-defense statute are pending before the Legislature. A group of 11 senators and one representative sponsored a bill codifying “stand your ground” and castle doctrine principles; it also clarifies that a place of business or employment and an occupied vehicle are included as defensible places. Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett introduced a bill that also codifies “stand your ground,” adds a clause that the victim is presumed innocent until proven guilty and requires the state to pay a victim’s legal expenses if they are found “not guilty” using a self-defense claim. Both bills are awaiting a hearing before their respective State Affairs committees.

Q: How do you define “Idaho values”?

Ahlquist: “I define Idaho values as the principles of freedom, self-reliance, hard work, honesty, integrity, faith, family, service, and entrepreneurial spirit. Values that appreciate, respect, and learn from the past while looking forward and embracing optimistically the future. The belief of less talk and more action. The belief and respect of the individual and bedrock conservative principles.”

Balukoff: “Above all, Idaho values responsibility, fairness and a level playing field so all of our citizens have an equal opportunity to thrive. By making real and sustained investments in education and healthcare, more Idahoans from all walks of life will have a fair shot at success. Idaho’s pristine public spaces are everyone’s castle that must be protected from irresponsible policies that will close off access to hunters, anglers, hikers and the like. If we put our faith and energy into the people of Idaho, and treat each other with dignity, respect and honesty, we can become a prosperous and healthy state.”

Jordan: “Idahoans value the strength of our communities and the vitality of our land. Fiercely independent, we derive power and dignity from our own self-reliance. We want high quality education for our children and we believe that compassion and ethical responsibility are the essential principles of being a good neighbor. We understand the importance of protecting the natural world in order to preserve the beauty and utility of our environment for future generations. We believe in fundamental fairness. We believe in hard work and we believe in taking care of one another. Most of all, we believe that we have the ability to build a better state — a state in which we can all prosper.”

Labrador: “Idahoans are an optimistic people of high moral character who are defined by their love for family and community, faith in God, and rugged independence. And, as governor, I want our state government to reflect those values. Big government and the mainstream media want to tell us those values aren’t important, but Idahoans know different. When I’m elected governor, I’m going to protect life, defend traditional marriage and limit our government so all Idahoans can pursue economic opportunities and create a brighter future for their families.”

Little: “Hard work, freedom, self-reliance, family and faith are Idaho values. As a lifelong Idahoan, I have lived these values.”

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

Important deadlines

Idaho’s Republican primary is closed. New or unaffiliated voters can still declare themselves Republicans during early voting or on Election Day, May 15. But if you are already affiliated with a party and want to change that, you must let your county clerk’s office know by March 9. Idaho Democrats run an open primary, and voters of any affiliation may select a Democratic ballot.

Monday is the first day candidates in the May primary can file their official candidacies. All formal candidate declarations are due by March 9. Information on filing is available at the Idaho Secretary of State’s website.