The hottest legislative race in North Idaho this spring is the four-way contest for the House seat in District 3 that’s opening up due to seven-term Rep. Jim Clark’s retirement.
The matchup between the four candidates, all of whom are actively campaigning, is the final chapter in this story – no Democrat has filed for the seat, so the GOP primary winner on May 25 will be the district’s new representative in Boise.
And with the typically very low turnout in Idaho primary elections, there’s no telling what could happen in the race between Vito Barbieri of Dalton Gardens, Jeri DeLange of Hayden, Fred Meckel of Rathdrum and Duane Rasmussen of Hayden.
“It’s going to be kind of fun to watch – somebody could win with 30 percent of the vote, 30 percent of the 15 percent who show up to vote,” said Clark, who’s not endorsing any of the candidates but says he thinks there are “a lot of good-quality people in the field.”
3rd District Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who’s running unopposed for re-election, is playing a more active role – he recruited one of the four candidates, lawyer and former restaurant owner Barbieri.
Said Hart, “I am helping Vito Barbieri with his race – we’re talking every day.”
Barbieri, 58, the vice chairman of a Coeur d’Alene crisis pregnancy center, ranks opposition to abortion among his top motivations, opposes health care reform, and said he backed legislation Hart proposed this year to eliminate the income tax on earned income while raising the sales tax to 8.25 percent, and to allow Idahoans to pay their state taxes in silver medallions. The bills, he said, would have been “definitely a positive step forward.”
Barbieri’s restaurant, the Sunshine Trader, closed in February; he’s still a licensed attorney but is not practicing. “When Phil Hart called me and asked me to run, I figured it was just as good a time as any to be involved,” Barbieri said.
DeLange, 58, a Hayden city councilwoman for the past nine years, is making her third run for this House seat, after challenging Clark in the primary in both 2004 and 2006. She’s assistant to the executive director of the Coeur d’Alene Basin Commission, has worked in administration, accounting and purchasing for three local mining companies and Silver Mountain, and is the former finance director for the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s critical right now that taxpayer funding is spent responsibly,” DeLange said, “and I want to keep taxes low. And with my business experience, I have extensive experience in budgeting that will translate into making sure the state gets the most bang for its buck.”
She also favors attracting industry to bring good-paying jobs, funding transportation needs, managing natural resources for multiple use and minimizing government regulation.
Meckel, 40, a Rathdrum city councilman for the past two and a half years, notes that he’s the youngest in the pack. A psychosocial rehabilitation specialist for youth, he works for a firm that contracts with Medicaid and Medicare, serves in the Idaho National Guard, and is most concerned about bringing jobs to the area.
“A lot of my friends, a lot of my co-workers, they’re unemployed, they can’t find livable wage jobs, they’re living out of their cars,” Meckel said. “They’re in bad need of something, so I’m running for office to make a change in the way we attract business to our area.”
He favors increasing Idaho’s minimum wage, granting tax incentives to businesses that bring in high-wage jobs, and also wants to ensure gun rights and explore legislation targeting illegal immigration similar to Arizona’s controversial new law.
Rasmussen, 57, is a lawyer who practices in Washington and Oklahoma and lives in Hayden, and who says he’s motivated by public safety issues. “I’m running for the Legislature because I want to make the area that I live in safe and continue to be a good place to live,” he said.
One of the lawyers involved in lawsuits against the Spokane Diocese and against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch over sexual-abuse claims, Rasmussen said he got his Idaho political awakening when a prison work center was proposed near his home. “I decided that I didn’t want them releasing a bunch of prisoners on the street just down the road from where I live,” he said. He got involved in the successful fight to block the center and also opposed subsequent North Idaho locations for it; “We chased ’em out of Post Falls as well,” he said proudly. “I wanted to live in a safe community.”
Rasmussen said he also favors attracting businesses and “making Idaho a business-friendly place.”
Jorgenson vs. Vick
In District 3’s Senate race this year, incumbent Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden, is being challenged by former Montana state representative Steven Vick of Dalton Gardens, who was recruited to run against Jorgenson by Hart and Clark.
That prompted an angry response from Jorgenson, a third-term senator, vice chairman of the Judiciary & Rules Committee, chairman of the Idaho Indian Affairs Council, and a passionate advocate of harsh measures to crack down on illegal immigration. Jorgenson said the district would’ve been better off if Clark had recruited someone to replace himself this year, citing his 123 missed votes. “It’s a very long list of votes that he missed and it’s insulting to the voters and to his colleagues,” Jorgenson said.
Clark responded that all were excused absences, including several stemming from doctor’s appointments and medical tests he undergoes each March to follow up on past heart surgery.
Jorgenson also pointed to Hart’s problems with the IRS, saying, “I have a fundamental problem with someone serving in the Idaho Legislature who has a history of tens of thousands of dollars in federal income tax liens against their name.” Hart responded, “Jorgenson’s just talking off the top of his head – I don’t share the details of that with anybody, so he’s just kinda throwing darts.” Hart acknowledged a “history of challenging the tax system,” and said, “Once you get your shirt caught in that piece of machinery, it takes a long time to unravel it, and I’m still in the process of unraveling it.” He said he does have tax liens against his name, but said, “They’re getting regular payments out of me.”
Vick, 53, a home renovator, says he opposes tax increases, supported Hart’s silver medallion bill, and wants to enhance states’ rights. In addition to Hart and Clark, he said former state Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Coeur d’Alene, is helping with his campaign.
Here are the other contested primary races for North Idaho legislative seats:
Three-term Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, a member of the Legislature’s joint budget committee, faces two GOP challengers: James Stivers of Desmet, a painting contractor who wants to establish a state bank, and Dennis Engelhardt of Sagle, a retired administrator for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in Southern California who wants to oppose federal mandates.
Seven-term Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, faces a challenge from Steve Tanner of Bonners Ferry; and two-term Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, has two GOP challengers, insurance agent Jack Schroeder of Post Falls and lawyer John Green of Rathdrum.
Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, is challenged in the primary by Gresham Bouma of Viola, and Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, faces David Klingenberg in the Democratic primary.