Governor Little and State Candidates Visit Malad
On Saturday, the Oneida County Republicans hosted a slate of Republican candidates for next month’s election. Governor Brad Little, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, State Controller Brandon Woolf, and Superintendent of Schools Debbie Critchfield all spoke to the assembled crowd of voters, party supporters, and the interested public at large. The American Legion Post 65 posted the colors and led the Pledge of Allegiance. The MHS band and choir opened the event with music.
After an introduction to each of the speakers from Mike Hess, the candidates took turns introducing themselves and laying out their primary concerns for the state and counties such as Oneida. Earlier in the evening, questions from the crowd had been collected. A number of them were selected by the hosts, and moderator County Attorney Cody Brower asked each of the officials in turn to respond to some of them.
The questioning started with Governor Little, who was asked “What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the state of Idaho?” In a response that will sound familiar to residents of Oneida county, Little quickly responded “Growth, no question. Along with that comes questions related to roads, sewer, water, schools. Our state is currently the fastest growing state in the country, and growth is without a doubt our biggest concern.”
The next question was to current Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, who is running to replace Janice McGeachin as Idaho’s next Lieutenant Governor. Bedke first won election in 2002 to the state legislature, and has served as the Speaker of the House since 2012. The question was “What do you intend to focus on as Lieutenant Governor?” In response, Bedke responded, “I’m going to do the things I’ve always done. I will always try to find solutions that make sense for Idaho. My knowledge of resource issues will be very helpful for a lot of the kinds of questions we run into.”
State Controller Brandon Woolf, who has served in the position since 2014 after two years as Deputy Controller, was asked “How will you manage the budget in a frugal and conservative manner?” Woolf explained that his main approach would be to continue making sure the systems in place for state finances continued to work smoothly and correctly, following solid conservative economic policies. “I want things to work well. If we’re in the news, that’s probably not a good thing.”
Debbie Critchfield, who defeated incumbent Sherri Ybarra in the Republican primary election for State Superintendent, was asked about the extent of “CRT in public schools” as an issue. Critchfield explained that “my position has changed a bit over the last year. I’ve come to believe that our schools are doing a much better job at informing communities about what is being taught in the curriculum than they used to. I’ve also seen that in Idaho schools, CRT is not in itself a prevalent problem. But I do think we have shifted to looking at what is being taught in our schools and figuring out how to manage it in a way that reflects our values. I’ve seen a number of examples of how transparency in local school districts has changed the relationship between schools and the communities for the better.”
The next question, directed at Governor Little, was a simple one: “Who the hell is Ammon Bundy?” The governor answered by stating, “Why, he’s my neighbor in Emmett.” Humor aside Ammon Bundy is running as an Independent in the Governor’s race for Idaho, and both have a residence in Emmett. The two have positions which are in opposition to one another on many issues, and the race has been somewhat contentious.
The governor was next asked about the issue of “Pride Parades and Drag Queens,” which was likely in reference to the recent issue with Boise’s City Pride Parade and an event with drag queens, later canceled, that was planned to allow child participants. The governor explained that the issue was one that was relatively new to him, and relevant to the specifics of the Boise parade itself, but not a widespread one. Brower used the response to make the question a more general one about what the governor plans to do to engage with some of the national questions that had been raised, including inflation, immigration, drug trafficking, and others. Little responded by explaining that his office was working to pressure the Biden administration on immigration issues. He then explained that an idea from his administration to combat inflation had to do with expanding the window for funds received by states as a result of COVID, so that they could be distributed over the next few years as a means of combating inflationary pressures.
Scott Bedke was next asked about what he would do to combat the rise in mental health issues across the state. Bedke responded by discussing the money the legislature has devoted to Recovery centers across the state, including Oneida county (through programs administrated out of Pocatello and elsewhere), to provide other options to police than incarceration for at risk youth. “Over the last ten years, we’ve made a big investment in alternatives to jail for those with mental health issues,” he said.
Brandon Woolf was asked about the stewardship of tax funds. “These tax dollars are sacred funds,” he said, “and that’s how I see them.” Scott Bedke broke in to add that Woolf sits on the Land Board for Idaho, which makes decisions affecting funds for thousands of Idahoans, in a fiscally responsible and effective way.
Debbie Critchfield was asked about the disparity in performance among different school districts across the state. “It’s true that the ability for smaller and rural areas to pass bonds and supplemental levies can affect student performance. We need to think about how facilities can affect student learning, and that’s something I’m very concerned about.”
The governor was asked about windmill projects under review where the generated power will potentially be diverted to other states, as well as potential changes to dams across Idaho. “We are a state that has a grid built for hydropower. Half of our power comes from falling water. It’s something we need to make sure is secured for our state.”
Scott Bedke was asked about division within the Republican party in Idaho, and how that might affect unity with the party writ large. Bedke shared an experience where he had discussed party division with a member of South Africa’s parliament. In the discussion, the South African had expressed dismay at the way the parliamentary system made representatives beholden to the party line. “My vote is for the voters who elected me,” Bedke said. “If a third party can enforce how I vote, then I’ve betrayed that trust.”
When asked how the potential election of someone other than Little would affect his job as Lieutenant Governor, Woolf responded that “we don’t have to be binary about everything. We’re a big family here in Idaho. However, if all taxes were done away with, it would bring things to an immediate halt.” Woolf praised Little for seeking compromise and being willing to find solutions that addressed the needs of people across the state, while maintaining a conservative foundation.
Bedke was asked to discuss the grocery tax rebate, which he explained returns money to Idahoans who pay sales tax for groceries, but does not return money to tourists (which he noted is the third largest sector of the state economy) or illegal immigrants, who do not file tax returns.
Critchfield was asked to discuss her plan to require personal finance classes for graduating seniors across the state. She explained that in her experience in the education field, she had observed that many of the later in life negative outcomes of students were the results of poor financial decision making, which could be mitigated by a better understanding of credit, investment, budgeting, and other essential components of financial decision making.
After the official Forum, candidates met with individual voters to discuss their concerns, and listen to their comments.