The Idaho Statesman’s Editorial Board asked the midterm election candidates about their priorities, how they plan to be advocates for Idahoans and important issues facing the state. Their answers to three of the board’s questions are below and have been lightly edited for length and style.
1. How would you describe the differences between you and your opponent?
Paulette Jordan, Democrat: Beside the obvious differences that I’m a mother raising two young sons and the only person running for statewide office from north of Horseshoe Bend, I’m also not the kind of politician who runs my campaign on the same old rhetoric offering the same old solutions to the same old problems that never seem to go away. After I’m elected, I’ll continue to energetically prioritize getting out of Boise to visit with all of our Idaho neighbors. ... I am of the people and for the people, and I will fight for the values that shaped me and that connect me to all of my Idaho neighbors.
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Brad Little, Republican: Idaho is a diverse state and a governor must instinctively understand Idaho to effectively make successful decisions. Being governor also requires relationships all across the state and in the Legislature to implement your vision and be an effective leader. My background in working and leading in agriculture, education, small business, philanthropy and state government has prepared me for the challenge of being your governor. I have a track record of bringing stakeholders together to get things done.
2. At the end of your term as governor, what would you like your legacy to be?
Jordan (D): During and after my time as governor, Idaho will be known as a leader in offering the nation innovative solutions to 21st century problems. We will use more clean and renewable energy sources. Our schools will be staffed with qualified and fairly compensated teachers and staff. Our kids will be educated and compete in college and the workplace. Employees will live lives of dignity and provide for their families. Our infrastructure will be safer and more up-to-date. All corners of Idaho will be securely linked to the world through the latest advancements in broadband connectivity. Our public lands will remain in our hands and we will live freely and proudly the Idaho lifestyle we all cherish. Our agriculture industry will be supported having supported innovations that continue to build the future generations of farming. We will reinvigorate our ecosystem. Most importantly, every Idahoan will feel they are part of our great Idaho family and know that their government works for and not against them — we will have built a more equitable and just society for all Idahoans.
Little (R): My goal right now is to become your next governor. If elected, we have a lot to accomplish before I determine a legacy, but, as I have said before, I will make all decisions through the lens of making sure our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to remain in Idaho or to return home. They want quality educational opportunities, affordable health care and employment options that provide for a good quality of life all while comfortably planning for retirement.
3. How should Idaho balance the surge in growth and development against the desire to maintain the qualities that make the state special?
Jordan (D): The greatest contribution the state can make is to allow local governments to devise local solutions to local problems through local option taxes and other homegrown interventions. The state has a job to do to prop up schools and communities and an obligation to provide resources for building infrastructure that connects us, but we must also encourage solutions debated and decided by those closest to those solutions. It’s at that level that issues of quality of life can be best addressed.
Little (R): It is no doubt a tricky balance. I have lived in Emmett my entire life and have seen incredible changes in the Treasure Valley. I am committed to protecting Idaho’s quality of life while managing this growth and development within our state. We must be selective when we conduct economic development, making sure new industries complement our existing businesses and communities and fit with our goals to diversify our state’s economy and raise incomes across the state. We must continue investments in education and infrastructure to account for this growth.
1. Affordability and making a living wage is a growing issue in the Treasure Valley. Where do you stand on raising Idaho’s minimum wage above the current $7.25/hour?
Kristin Collum, Democrat: Hard workers deserve livable wages. The minimum wage, which is the base for all other wages, hasn’t been raised in nearly 10 years, yet the cost of living has. ... We would want to look at local options so that high-cost areas can set an appropriate higher minimum wage. Also, we should work out a gradual implementation over time so small businesses can have adequate time to prepare for the change impact.
Janice McGeachin, Republican: Determining wages is not a proper role of government. The market will determine the best rates to pay for labor.
2. What is your plan for improving access to health care for all Idaho residents? Do you support a state-financed expansion of Medicaid?
Collum (D): I support Prop 2, Medicaid Expansion. When it passes, health insurance can be extended to our gap population of around 62,000 working Idahoans (~5000 veterans and family members) who, ‘til now, have not had any affordable options. This brings our federal tax dollars back to Idaho, and allows for year after year net savings as Indigent and Catastrophic Care programs are decreased. It allows for our hospitals to be paid for services rather than write off losses (especially important for our rural hospitals) and hire more staff, who will spend money in our local economies. It’s a win all the way around.
McGeachin (R): While I agree that we have a responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable among us, I do not agree that government healthcare is the solution. As former chairwoman of the health and welfare committee, we studied Obamacare and knew that it’s implementation in Idaho was a bad choice. That’s why we fought against it. Now, Idahoans have paid the price through skyrocketing premiums that our families and individuals simply can’t afford. There are states that have moved toward alternatives to expanding Medicaid which studies have shown to increase access and quality while reducing costs. Idaho can lead the way in finding an alternative solution to universal healthcare espoused by progressive interests.
3. Employers are demanding a higher skilled workforce? What is your plan for upgrading the skills of Idahoans?
Collum (D): As a software engineering manager, I’ve directly experienced the shortage of skilled workers in Idaho. To upgrade skills, we need more of our students participating in STEM and CTE programs and going on to community colleges and universities. Also, I would like to see businesses and schools working synergistically to better match the supply of graduates to the skills and degrees of workers needed and increase internships to help students gain experience and strengthen their ties to Idaho-based companies.
McGeachin (R): Bring everyone to the table with a leader ready to roll up her sleeves and get busy. We will work to promote partnerships between the educational institutions and the business community to teach our kids the skills they need to compete in a global economy, whether it’s training in college, apprenticeships or code certifications they can achieve in high school, our entire education system needs to be updated with the understanding that education is workforce development.
Congressional District 1 (western Idaho)
1. What do you think is the most important issue that is specific to the 1st Congressional District?
Russ Fulcher, Republican: There are three. One is immigration. I support a system based on strong border security and merit-based assimilation that applies the rule of law. Another priority will be healthcare reform. Health care must be more affordable and more accessible. This can be accomplished by eliminating unnecessary federal rules and adopting patient-centric, free market alternatives. Local control will be another priority. I want to shift the default decision-making process from the federal level to Idaho citizens via local governance.
Cristina McNeil, Democrat: There is much unfinished business in Congress, all important to the people of Idaho’s first district. That being said, the economy is the most important. From agriculture, forestry, mining, import costs, export commerce, business, labor shortages, living wage, wages that lag behind increases in productivity, job training and health care costs — Idaho families depend on a vibrant economy. The concerns facing the district are complex, addressing the interrelated issues of the economy will be the most beneficial for CD1.
2. Do you support or oppose President Donald Trump and his agenda?
Fulcher (R): Yes to President Trump’s conservative agenda. Specifically: local control, free-market principles, American strength and Christian value system.
McNeil (D): The president and his agenda keep changing. Consistently, I support an Idaho peoples’ agenda. When the president’s agenda is beneficial for the people, I will support it. When the president’s agenda is not beneficial for the people, I will oppose it. Idaho needs a representative in Congress who will be an independent voice, who is able to act for progress in Idaho.
3. Where do you stand on federal immigration policy?
Fulcher (R): I support a system based on strong border security and merit-based assimilation that applies the rule of law. Idaho is currently dependent on seasonal employment, although the market is automating and may not need as much immigrant labor in the future. In the meantime, there is a proposal floating in Congress to create a guest worker program for seasonal agricultural workers, called H-2C. The advantage of this approach would be that it ensures these seasonal workers pay taxes for the services they use. It also fits with my view that the rule of law must be followed, immigration should be merit-based, and tracking measures are employed that logs who is coming into the country and whether they are to stay or leave.
McNeil (D): I support fixing and modernizing our immigration system. I support an independent Immigration Court. I support DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) as part of reasonable, responsible immigration policy. For immigrants, citizenship is a proud achievement, an achievement they work hard to obtain. Citizenship should be attainable. Idaho is an agricultural exporting state. I support farmers, ranchers, dairymen, and all industries that struggle with labor shortages. Increasing H-2A (Temporary Agricultural Worker permit) and H-2B (Temporary Business Worker permit) will allow guest worker permits to fill labor needs. Idaho’s need for farm guest workers is increasing, and the numbers are out of balance with Idaho’s needs. That puts businesses that rely on immigrant labor in jeopardy.
Congressional District 2 (eastern Idaho)
1. What do you think is the most important issue that is specific to the 2nd Congressional District?
Mike Simpson, Republican: Right now, immigration. We have a migrant work force in Idaho. We need to fix our broken immigration system so that these families, their employers and our law enforcement system can work congruently instead of against each other.
Aaron Swisher, Democrat: The most important issue for the 2nd Congressional District is our extreme level of income disparity and the inability of Idahoans to earn reasonable wages for the labor that they provide. We have low unemployment, that’s true. But the jobs to be had don’t pay enough to support a family, so you have teachers in Pocatello who work two or three jobs, and folks with college degrees in Rupert who can’t afford to buy houses or health insurance.
2. What do your constituents need most from Washington?
Simpson (R): A voice. Idaho is a small state and with only two representatives it is imperative that we listen to our constituents and know their priorities before we cast a vote. I have also been a consistent advocate for Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools. These two important programs fill the federal government’s responsibility of what essentially amounts to their share of property taxes for the public land ownership in the state.
Swisher (D): People need a set of economic ground rules that create a fair economy in which workers are properly compensated for the labor they put forth and the value that they provide to our society. The establishment of such an economic environment would not only provide individuals a better financial foundation for their lives, but would give people a level of economic freedom to develop themselves personally, and strengthen their families and communities socially. Americans need government that works for them, rather than political gridlock.
3. What is your idea for reworking the Affordable Care Act?
Simpson (R): We need to make individuals and families consumers again when it comes to health insurance. I think the way to do that is create more competition and choice in the marketplace. I think the Affordable Care Act represented a significant step in a transition to government-run health care. That is why you saw premiums skyrocket under the ACA. I have been encouraged to see the state of Idaho take back some of the control and creating more choice. Despite the onerous regulations under ACA, Idaho is finding a way to keep costs down to the best of their ability. Applying this on a national level would benefit all Americans.
Swisher (D): I do not view the Affordable Care Act as a sustainable, long-term health care policy. Therefore, I would rather see the federal government work on a health care system that is sustainable and less complicated. With the amount of power that health care, pharmaceutical and insurance companies have in the marketplace, I believe that a single-payer, Medicare-for-all-type system would return some balance for consumers.
Superintendent of public instruction
1. What would be your single highest priority for 2019?
Cindy Wilson, Democrat: My priority for 2019 is improving student achievement and learning for our Idaho children. We can do that by recruiting and retaining great teachers and promoting preschool opportunities for all kids.
Sherri Ybarra, Republican: My highest priority will be continuing to build on the momentum in our efforts to end Idaho’s educator shortage, boost student achievement and graduation rates, improve teacher pay, and increase safety for our students through the Keep Idaho Students Safe initiative.
2. Idaho’s education performance lags the national average. How does this hurt the state’s competitiveness and the future prospects for its children? What would you do to improve the results?
Wilson (D): While other states’ school achievement scores are rising, Idaho’s school performance scores have flatlined or dropped in nearly every category. We can do better. Engaging students in their early years — through preschool opportunities and full-time kindergarten — will get every child off to a good start. Ensuring all children are reading at grade level by third grade will prove that they are ready to move on for content reading. Offering more and different opportunities for high schoolers to go on to successful careers will better engage teenagers and provide them a reason to succeed in school so they can find success in their careers.
Ybarra (R): First, we must continually challenge the myth that Idaho is lagging behind the “national average.” Idaho students perform well when compared to their counterparts in other states, and the national average on the only test that allows for this comparison is the National Assessment of Education Progress. The most recent NAEP results show:
- 4th grade math, only 11 states performed higher than Idaho
- 8th grade math, only six states performed higher than Idaho
- 4th grade reading, only six states performed higher than Idaho
- 8th grade reading, just two states performed higher than Idaho
And when it comes to college readiness, Idaho ranks No. 5 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report! But there is still room to improve, and we have a plan to do so. We need to stick to that plan and build on our successes and better serve our special needs populations.
3. Is teacher pay in Idaho adequate to attract and retain the best instructors?
Wilson (D): When I served on the Governor’s Task Force for Education Reform, we researched the importance of adequately paying teachers and recommended increasing the salary through a Career Ladder. Even five years later, we are not meeting teaching salaries that would attract and keep great teachers in Idaho. As our state has fallen to the bottom in teacher salaries, we face a looming teacher shortage in Idaho. Many local districts began the school year with teaching positions going unfilled, and that isn’t fair to Idaho kids.
Ybarra (R): We are working on improving. The career ladder was the No. 1 priority of stakeholder groups when crafting the FY 2020 public schools budget request, and improving teacher pay is the key priority in the budget I’m presenting to legislators, with increases ranging from 3.9 percent to 16 percent at each rung. The career ladder was put into law during the 2015 legislative session, and in the beginning focused on boosting the starting salaries for Idaho teachers to attract more to the profession. Now, we need to focus on the experienced teachers who help our schools excel, and so my budget gives them the largest increases we can — both to recognize their commitment and expertise, and to keep them from moving to other states with deeper pockets.