District 10, 11 candidates face off at forum (Idaho Press Tribune)

rep-greg-chaney
“The First Amendment very explicitly guarantees the free exercise of religion, and I feel strongly that this is a legal foothold into eroding freedom of religion, into eroding the freedom of speech and into eroding our American way of life, looking to God for direction, and being told to silence ourselves and remove ourselves from the public square, from the economy, from all manner of society, unless we’re willing to act opposed to our faith,” Chaney said. “A sincerely held faith, by definition, affects one’s behavior.”

Rep. Greg Chaney

 

CALDWELL — Candidates clashed on the treatment of marginalized, religious and poor groups Tuesday night at a forum held in the Caldwell police station’s community room.

Democratic candidates challenged Republican incumbents for the state House and Senate on policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Idaho’s lower income families and those who fall into the Medicaid gap, which includes thousands of Idahoans without some form of health insurance. Meanwhile, Republicans argued their case for the need to protect religious freedom and the middle class.

 The forum, sponsored by the Idaho Press-Tribune, KBOI-TV and the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce, was held in two parts: District 10 candidates first and District 11 candidates second.

DISTRICT 10

An early question centered around the 78,000 Idahoans who don’t have health insurance coverage and fall into the “gap.” Those in this uninsured category don’t qualify for Medicaid, but also don’t make enough money to be eligible to buy affordable health coverage through Idaho’s insurance exchange.

Brandon Hixon, the Republican incumbent in House District 10-A, who serves on the House Health and Welfare Committee, said he will continue to vote against full Medicaid expansion in Idaho, a step that would close the gap. Hixon said protecting the middle class, which shoulders the burden when it comes to health care costs, underpins his position.

“There’s no doubt that the 78,000 fall into a gap,” Hixon said. “… Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced, and until that happens, as a state legislator, I am for protecting the middle class person and seeing if there is any type of a way we can get the people in the 78,000 perhaps some accommodation.”

Jeremy Lopett, Hixon’s Democrat challenger, disagreed. He cited what he called “inefficient government programs and frivolous lawsuits,” such as the lawsuit Idaho filed to fight the legalization of gay marriage, as an example showing how taxpayer money is being wasted on things other than helping to close the gap.

“The Medicaid gap does include the middle class,” Lopett said. “That is the middle class right there. We need to accept any federal funds that are available to fill that gap.”

On the subject of the Add the Words campaign, which seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Idaho’s Human Rights Act, incumbent Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, reiterated his opposition to the additional protections. While he believes every human being should be treated with respect, dignity and fairness, Chaney argues this type of statute has been used over time to “flip discrimination” against religion.

“The First Amendment very explicitly guarantees the free exercise of religion, and I feel strongly that this is a legal foothold into eroding freedom of religion, into eroding the freedom of speech and into eroding our American way of life, looking to God for direction, and being told to silence ourselves and remove ourselves from the public square, from the economy, from all manner of society, unless we’re willing to act opposed to our faith,” Chaney said. “A sincerely held faith, by definition, affects one’s behavior.”

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which is the focus of the Add the Words campaign, is not being protected under Idaho law, said Democrat Warren Stevens, Chaney’s District 10-B challenger from Caldwell.

“I don’t understand why these people aren’t considered real people,” Stevens said. “Now, I agree with my opponent — we need to make sure freedom of speech and freedom of religion are protected. But that is easily possible while also respecting, and not discriminating against these people. You can speak out against lifestyles you do not approve of, you can refuse to participate in ceremonies you do not approve of, but you cannot discriminate against someone just because who they are.”

For the Senate candidates from District 10, one question focused on whether to increase funding for road and infrastructure projects in Canyon County.

Ydalia Yado, the Democratic challenger from Caldwell, said something must be done to help rebuild infrastructure, and he suggested increasing the fuel tax “a little.”

“It’s just that, when I look into this, we need to do something to help rebuild our infrastructure, but I would like to make sure that when we make that decision, I get more opinions from businesses and people, so that we’re not using a regressive tax that is going to affect those living in poverty,” Yado said.

Incumbent Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, cited his work in the Legislature to explore road funding options. He said legislators have committed to another look at the “ton mile tax,” which calls for a tax on vehicles based on their actual weight for a trip and number of miles traveled.

“We’re taxing building our roads or maintaining our roads, to move funds off of our roads, that we collect in fuel taxes, and stick them in other programs,” Rice said. “That’s $13 million a year.”

 

DISTRICT 11

The District 11 forum included candidates for the Senate and House 11-A position. The three candidates for 11-B, Democrat Rita Burns, incumbent Republican Christy Perry and Libertarian John Charles Smith, were not present. Burns and Perry both told the Press-Tribune they had prior obligations, and Perry sent a statement to be read to the audience.

Candidates for House District 11-A were quizzed on their opinion on House Joint Resolution 5, a proposed amendment to the Idaho Constitution that gives legislators final say in rejecting an agency rule.

Scott Syme, a Republican candidate from Wilder, said he supports HJR 5 because the courts already decided legislators have that power.

“What HJR 5 does is it just puts into code what the Supreme Court of the state of Idaho has already said they can do,” Syme said. “So, basically, I support that. I know that there are various arguments why you shouldn’t do that, but as of right now, the Supreme Court’s decided that issue.”

Edward Savala, the Democratic candidate from Caldwell, said he does not support the proposed amendment.

“I believe in separation of powers, and if only one branch has the last word, then we’re in a bigger fix than what we are right now,” Savala said. “I don’t support that, and I think that it’s good to have all three branches working. Sometimes they won’t agree with one another. That’s the basis of our government.”

The candidates for the District 11 Senate seat discussed what they would do to help their constituents with the issue of finding affordable housing in Canyon County.

Pat Day Hartwell, the Democrat challenger from Caldwell, connected the issue to increasing the minimum wage.

“We need to increase the minimum wage so that they have more money to spend for affordable housing,” Hartwell said. “There are some housing programs. I think we need to make sure that they’re well-funded.”

Incumbent Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said some of the regulations that make it difficult to build houses cost-effectively should be eliminated. She added people need to take advantage of educational opportunities to help save for investments in housing.

“And education is a lifetime endeavor and you continue to improve yourself throughout the years, and you save, you budget, and you save, so you can afford a house,” Lodge said.

Greg Collett, the Independent candidate from Caldwell, said the problem with the affordable housing issue is that it’s part of a larger problem of government intervention in free markets.

“We need to get government out of the business of regulating and controlling every aspect of our lives, and if we can do that by getting government — repealing all of the laws that create licensing, regulations and all these controls that we try to put on the economy — the free market will work for itself,” Collett said.

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