Four-term Idaho state Rep. George Eskridge has focused on energy, veterans issues, property tax relief and the state budget since he began making the annual trip to Boise to represent Bonner and Boundary counties.
“I think my tenure in the Legislature and my committee assignments, especially Appropriations, has me in a good position to serve my district well,” said Eskridge, R-Dover. “I just want to go back and continue serving as long as I can be effective.”
His Democratic challenger, longtime community volunteer and retired garden center owner Tom Hollingsworth, said he’s concerned that special interests have too much sway in the Legislature and that North Idaho’s needs get overlooked.
“I think the incumbent has his priorities, he has things he’s interested in, but I don’t think they’re the same priorities that I intend to have,” Hollingsworth said. “Every day I will concentrate on getting jobs.” The first step, he said, is to “get our schools really up to par,” so businesses will want to come to the region.
Eskridge, 66, is a part-time real estate agent and a retired Bonneville Power Administration official whose background is in energy. A Bonners Ferry native and Sandpoint High School graduate, he served on the USS Midway in Vietnam.
Hollingsworth, 73, founded and operated Holly Gardens, a retail garden center and tree farm in Bonners Ferry, until his retirement. His wife still operates the cut-flower nursery. An Army veteran, he’s a prolific community volunteer who serves on six local boards, including chairing the county Planning and Zoning Commission. He moved to Bonners Ferry in 1988.
Hollingsworth said, “I’m more a team player – I like being on committees, on boards. … This is what I normally do.”
But he said he was noticing needs going unaddressed, from more school funding to help for groups like midwives and special-needs kids, and a supporter urged him to consider running for the Legislature. “I thought, you know, that’s not a bad idea,” he said. “Maybe I could take what I’m doing one step further and help the entire community, both Bonner County and Boundary County.”
Eskridge said he’s running for a fifth term because “first of all I enjoy it and think that I am still providing a good service to my constituents out there, which is my main intent. And secondly, one of my priorities has been and continues to be reforming our property tax, our real property tax situation, because of the issue we have in our district where we’ve seen an extraordinary increase in residential property values that are hurting our property taxpayers, our property owners. That’s still my priority, and I want to continue working on that.”
For several years, Eskridge has pushed unsuccessfully for sweeping reforms. But he points to some successes, too: He backed a significant increase in the homeowner’s exemption, and a move championed by then-Gov. Jim Risch to shift a portion of school funding off the property tax and onto the sales tax.
Eskridge also counts among his accomplishments the adoption of an Idaho energy plan, incentives for development of renewal energy, and a “dig bill” to impose penalties on people who fail to call when they’re going to be digging to make sure they don’t dig into a gas line.
Hollingsworth maintains that the Legislature pays too much attention to special interests and should eliminate tax breaks for big business and other recipients and shift the money to basic needs.
“I see that as a tremendous issue,” Hollingsworth said. “We need money in our general fund, and that money could go toward schools and seniors and a lot of other issues.”
He advocates a review of all existing sales-tax exemptions and taking those no longer warranted off the books.
The challenger also maintains that the Legislature is overlooking his district’s needs, a charge Eskridge disputes. “I don’t think the Legislature in Boise is treating North Idaho properly,” Hollingsworth said.
Eskridge lists off a list of major road improvements in the district completed during his tenure, including the Highway 95 junction to Eastport, widening of key roadways in Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry and improvements on Highway 2.
“I like to feel that I have represented our interests well, in both Bonner and Boundary counties,” Eskridge said. He said he’s worked as a team with the district’s two other GOP lawmakers, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake. Both Eskridge and Keough serve on the Legislature’s joint budget committee, a key panel that writes the budgets for state agencies.
“I think actually the three of us represent our district very well and work hard,” Eskridge said.
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