In this election year, politics are heating up all over the state; in North Idaho, they’ve drawn a longtime local church pastor into the fray, and now he’s campaigning for office.
Mike Bullard was the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Coeur d’Alene until he retired in 2009 after 35 years as a church pastor. Now he’s running for political office, challenging three-term state Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene.
Bullard said when he campaigns door-to-door, he’s struck by one thing: “Before they even find out the politics, the vast majority of people are courteous to the stranger at the door.”
Bullard said he agrees with Chadderdon on many issues, and called her a “lovely human being,” but said she goes along with her party’s leadership rather than leading. “She should be well-thanked for service, but right now North Idaho needs an independent thinker,” he said.
Bullard disagrees strongly with the “conscience” bill that passed this year, allowing any medical care provider to refuse to provide end-of-life care that violates his or her conscience; Chadderdon voted for it.
“As a pastor, I’ve been with hundreds of people who were sick or dying,” Bullard said. “I’ve held the hands of quite a number of people as they passed away.” Over and over, he said, they told him they just wanted their care providers to be honest with them and follow their wishes. He said, “I think a patient has a right to that.”
Chadderdon said she believes the measure contains sufficient protections for patients, because in life-threatening emergencies, it requires a provider who objects to provide the care anyway until another provider is found. She also noted that Idaho extended conscience protection to doctors and hospitals in 1973; however, that was only in regard to abortion. The new law covers abortion, emergency contraception, treatments related to stem cell research and “end of life treatment or care.”
Bullard, a Democrat, said he started into the race out of concern over cuts in education, but has increasingly become concerned about jobs and the economy, so he’s been studying that issue and the surrounding politics, which as a pastor he tried to stay away from. “Before that I was studying the Bible and studying lots of other issues,” he said, including pastoral care of victims of domestic and sexual violence, which was the topic of his doctoral thesis.
His conclusion: Idaho’s personal income was dropping for 15 years before the recession, leaving it in poor shape to handle the downturn. “It’s been a gradual decline so that when the recession hit, we were really very vulnerable,” he said. “We’ve not been having the right kind of business and commerce in the state in order to build up our tax base, and that’s gone on over a period of several decades.”
He said, “We’re going to need all the Republicans, and there’s an awful lot of doggone good Republicans, and all the Democrats and independents and everyone else need to put our minds together to find ways to bring real commerce into the state. We need to update our infrastructure, we need to update our utilities. … We’re all going to have to work together.”
Chadderdon, who is seeking a fourth term, said she decided to run again in part because there’s just one more term before legislative districts will change with redistricting. With her years of experience and a tough year looming financially, she said, legislative leaders told her, “You’re strong enough, you can make the tough votes.” She said, “I said as long as I’m healthy, feel strong, that I would run.”
She added, “I admire anyone that will run for any elected position.” Having an election opponent, she said, “does keep you on your toes.”
Chadderdon says education is “upper-front what I care about,” and she defends her vote to cut school funding this year. “That’s part of the tough vote that we had to make,” she said, “with the revenue not being there and with the unemployment as high as it is in Idaho.”
Bullard says the state could have spared schools from the cuts. “Idaho has not done a good job of collecting the taxes that are due, including from its own legislators,” he said, referring to the ongoing tax fight of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol. Between that, the state’s “tax gap” of taxes due but uncollected, and sales tax exemptions that far exceed the amount of tax collected, “That’s a pattern of bad business,” he said. “You always look in a business at collecting the receivables that are due to you when you’re in trouble financially, and that has not been done.”
Chadderdon said no one wants to pay more taxes in a time of high unemployment when so many are struggling. “I didn’t see anyone volunteering,” she said.
Getting message across
In another North Idaho legislative race, Democrat Jon Ruggles of Wallace, who is challenging Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, is a cancer survivor who’s been cancer-free for seven years, but whose recovery from cancer of the tongue left him with a speech impairment. Though that makes him harder to understand when he’s out campaigning, he said, “They tend to listen, strangely enough, more diligently.”
It’s been interesting asking candidates what their campaign promises are; we’ll have a full rundown in our upcoming Voter Guide that comes out Oct. 12. Here are a few from incumbents:
Rep. Dick Harwood: “I’ll push back from the federal government’s encroachment on our states’ rights.”
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene: “I’ll do what I can to stimulate the economy to create jobs, which will then create revenue for the state.”
Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard: “I will work hard for our mining industry and our forest industry. They’re both so important to Shoshone County as well as the other counties, and we need to get them started again, particularly the mining industry.”