State Politics

Boise’s District 15: 1st-termer McDonald vs. former senator Beck

Patrick McDonald
Patrick McDonald

The Republican primary for a House seat in Boise’s District 15 is, in one sense, a rematch. Incumbent Patrick McDonald was first appointed to the seat by Gov. Butch Otter in early 2014. One of the runners-up for the appointment was this year’s challenger, Rod Beck.

McDonald, 69, is a retired Idaho state trooper and U.S. marshal who, after his 2014 appointment, went on to win his first full term. Beck, 64, a real estate agent, is a former state senator who chaired Donald Trump’s 2016 Idaho presidential campaign.

That last bit might give some indication of Beck’s sympathies. He has long represented the more conservative, anti-establishment wing of the state Republican party and his platform is faithful to those principles. Beck is also the brother of Doyle Beck, the Bonneville County Republican chairman charged April 28 with a misdemeanor for concealing the source of a $12,000 contribution to a north Idaho PAC.

Priorities: Beck, in the Idaho Statesman voter guide, names as his top priority the preservation of constitutional liberties embodied in the Bill of Rights. Second on his list was reforming the Legislature to open up more debate and make the body more inclusive, and third was ethical reform to “remove the cloud of cronyism and corruption.” An example of this, he said, was lawmakers who take state jobs to boost their pensions.

Beck also cites criminal justice reform as a priority, saying that locking up “way too many non-violent people causes societal harm and costs too much.”

McDonald cites as priorities the public defense reforms enacted this year — he served on the special legislative committee that studied the issue — and his support for enhancing STEM education programs that will help produce students who are “career ready.” He also prioritizes public safety.

Health care: Expanding Medicaid to help Idaho’s low-income residents who can’t obtain health coverage, Beck said expansion of the federal program was “the last thing Idaho needs.” He supports a solution driven by the private sector. McDonald said he had reservations about expansion: The state needs to “tread carefully” before opting to accept federal money.

Education: Beck said Idaho should opt out of federal standards for educational curricula and testing and “return to maximum local control of education,” including enhanced school choice. McDonald, who serves on the House Education committee, said he was a “strong advocate” for education and supported the multi-year funding increases, including this year’s infusion of $9.1 million to boost early-education literacy programs. He cites his law enforcement background as a factor that shaped his concern for school safety.

Role of government: Beck has sharply defined views on government and the interactions among its different levels. As a state senator in 1995, he helped drive the creation of the state Constitutional Defense Council to defend the state “against federal intrusion on states’ rights,” but said the council has done little more than authorize payments when the state loses lawsuits over actions deemed unconstitutional by federal courts. He said state government “should not hinder or pre-empt local government, unless the local government attempts to circumvent state statute or the state or federal Constitution.” Idaho “does a much better job of managing public lands” than the federal government but the two should cooperate to “maximize public lands utility.”

McDonald said Idahoans “can appreciate how intrusive the federal government has been in many of their endeavors” but said the state should intercede with regard to local initiatives that run counter to state policy. The Legislature did that in two cases this year: moving to prevent localities from enacting minimum wage increases and banning the use of plastic bags within their jurisdictions. He said Idaho “doesn’t have the funds” to take over management of federal lands but “could do a better job.”

The winner will face Democrat Jake Ellis in November.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD

House District 15 Seat B:

▪  Rep. Patrick McDonald, 69, Boise: Former state trooper and U.S. marshal seeking second term.

▪  Rod Beck, 64, Boise: Real estate agent, former state senator, chaired Donald Trump’s 2016 Idaho presidential campaign.