April 29, 2012 in Idaho

Three Idaho Republicans challenging Hart in race

Primary winner will face Democrat Dan English
By The Spokesman-Review
Idaho Legislature, District 2

Senate – GOP primary

Mike Jorgenson

AGE: 63

OCCUPATION: Restaurant owner; business consultant

NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Served three terms in the Senate. Started the Copa restaurant in Hayden two years ago; now employs 20 people. Former Hayden Lake City Council president.

KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: “I am going to make this a more business-friendly state. And I am going to be a legislator of accomplishment, not obstructionist.” Jorgenson said he also will “keep and maintain my commitment to strong family values,” take conservative stands on social and fiscal issues, and support “quality education.”

Steve Vick

AGE: 55

OCCUPATION: Incumbent; owner, home renovation company

NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Serving first two-year term in Senate. Served four terms in Montana state House of Representatives. Worked for two and a half years as program manager, utility division, for the Montana Public Service Commission.

KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: “My main focus is to keep government limited and efficient. The private sector will do a good job of figuring out where the opportunities are and the jobs will come.” Plans to try again with his failed legislation from this year to amend the Idaho Constitution to require a two-thirds vote for any tax or fee increase or removing any tax break.

House Seat 2A –

GOP primary

Vito Barbieri

AGE: 60

OCCUPATION: Incumbent; small-business owner

NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Serving first two-year term in House. Unsuccessfully pushed legislation to “nullify” federal health care reform law. Chairman of the board, Open Arms Pregnancy Care Center and Real Choices Clinic, Coeur d’Alene. Practiced law in California for 20 years.

KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: “I think the key is to remain true to the conservative ideology, and that is to somehow shrink government, that is to say, shrink the regulations that are stifling businesses.” Working on legislation to deregulate driver’s training businesses in Idaho; and to look into a way to charge the federal government for destruction of Idaho wildlife by wolves.

Mark Fisher

AGE: 49

OCCUPATION: President and owner, Advanced Benefits, an employee benefits insurance and consulting firm

NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Charter member and past president, Sunrise Rotary Club; seven years as board member of Coeur d’Alene Area Chamber of Commerce, including serving as board chairman in 2009; North Idaho College Foundation board; North Idaho Christian School board. Self-employed for 27 years.

KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: Promises to support legislation for more school choice; to reduce regulations on business; and to eliminate the personal property tax on business equipment and machinery; also wants to “stop Obamacare and provide real market-based insurance options and insurance solutions and safety nets for people to have health insurance, so that we don’t have people going bankrupt.”

House Seat 2B –

GOP primary

Phil Hart

AGE: 56

OCCUPATION: Incumbent; civil and structural engineer; owner of Alpine Engineering

NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Serving fourth two-year term in House; ran unsuccessfully in 2002 as a Constitution Party candidate before switching to Republican in 2004. Pressed unsuccessful lawsuit charging the federal income tax is unconstitutional; continuing fight in court over back state and federal income taxes. Lost repeated court appeals over cutting timber illegally from state school endowment lands for his log home, on which the IRS is now attempting to foreclose for back federal income taxes. Author of the book “Constitutional Income: Do you have any?”

KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: “I’m going to try to promote more freedom.” Hart unsuccessfully pushed legislation this year to declare gold and silver coins to be legal tender in Idaho, and to exempt farm products from government regulation when sold at farmers markets or directly to buyers; he said, “I plan on bringing both of those bills back.” Also promises to continue work on legislation setting standards for retention and disposal of DNA evidence. “I do want to work on the illegal immigration issue again,” he said. “I’ve worked on that in the past, but we have yet to get anything done on it.”

Ed Morse

AGE: 61

OCCUPATION: Real estate appraiser and consultant

NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Thirty-nine years in the real estate appraisal business in Hayden; MBA, University of Idaho; law degree, Gonzaga University; board member, Kootenai County Reagan Republicans; past board member, Coeur d’Alene Library Foundation; member, Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce. Served on state and national professional boards.

KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: Promises to work for job creation and economic development, saying, “Jobs are better than any social entitlement, and much cheaper”; better educational and technical training for Idahoans; and to “protect property rights, reduce regulatory burdens, and create an environment to attract new business.” He also promises to work for “more ethics oversight for legislators,” saying, “The current House rules lack adequate disclosures and prevent complaints by average citizens.”

Ron Vieselmeyer

AGE: 71

OCCUPATION: Family marriage crisis counselor; ordained minister

NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Served one term in the Idaho House, 1989-90; managed Alan Keyes’ presidential campaign in Idaho in 2000; current elected member, North Idaho College board of trustees. President, Highway Evangelism and Sower Christian Bookstore. Served on boards of Idaho Family Forum, United Families Idaho, Idaho Chooses Life, Citizens in Action, and Reach America Christian Education Partnership.

KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: “It should be the people’s agenda; we’re a representative government.” Would work to get the state’s congressional delegation to meet regularly with lawmakers for their perspective on national issues, including tax reform and health care reform. “I would like to simplify the tax code, and the best way to do that would be to scrap the whole system, get rid of the IRS altogether. I’ve got some ideas of how it could be done.” Suggests collecting all taxes at the county level, with payments to the state and feds made by the counties. “Let’s collect the money where it’s closest to the people and keep it here.”

Fritz Wiedenhoff

AGE: 41

OCCUPATION: Firefighter, Northern Lakes Fire Protection District

NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Has worked as a firefighter for 11 years; currently shift lieutenant. “I go help people all the time that are having bad moments in their lives, so I think I have a grasp on helping people.” Father of three, 1988 graduate of Coeur d’Alene High School.

KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: “I believe in putting families first. I think if we look at everything and put Idaho families first, a lot of the other pieces will come together.” Wants to cut “excessive red tape” for businesses and “work toward making government more customer-service oriented.” Says, “I think I identify well with a lot of the people around here, all walks, across the board. Pretty near everybody either is retired and did work, or is working and raising a family as I am. I think I can bring that point of view.”

Betsy Z. Russell

Tax-protesting state Rep. Phil Hart may be the most controversial lawmaker in North Idaho, and his re-election bid for a fifth term in the state House has drawn a bevy of challengers in the May 15 GOP primary.

It’s a far cry from the last election, in which Hart was unopposed both in the primary and on the general election ballot. But an unprecedented 20 percent of the vote went to a write-in challenger in the general election in 2010, after news broke about Hart’s court fights over back taxes and a 1996 timber theft case. He subsequently lost his seat on the House tax committee and gave up a vice chairmanship on the Transportation Committee to avoid House ethics sanctions.

Hart said this year’s campaign is keeping him busy. “I think there’s a lot more interest this year, just because people are paying more attention to politics,” said Hart, 56, a civil engineer.

Ron Vieselmeyer, 71, an outspoken Christian conservative, ordained minister, former state lawmaker and current North Idaho College trustee, is among Hart’s GOP challengers.

“I’ve known Phil Hart for a lot of years, we’re good friends,” he said. “I like him, I agree to some things he stands for. The problem is that instead of what he’s doing is the issue, he has become the issue. And that distracts from what should be happening in the Legislature.”

Just last week, the Idaho Supreme Court rejected Hart’s latest appeal of an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. The U.S. Justice Department is in the process of trying to foreclose on Hart’s log home in Athol for back federal income taxes. That’s the same home he completed in part with logs illegally cut from state school endowment lands. Hart still maintains, though he lost repeated court appeals and never fully satisfied a court judgment, that as a citizen he had a right to take the timber for free.

Last month, a federal judge rejected Hart’s argument that his status as a state legislator should protect him from the IRS action to foreclose on his home. Hart has cited legislative privilege numerous times to win delays in both his state and federal tax cases.

Ed Morse, a longtime Hayden real estate appraiser, said, “For years my opponent has used his legislative position to promote his ‘tax protester’ ideology and assert legislative privileges. It is time for a change.”

Morse, 61, said, “I believe politicians should pay their taxes, not steal timber, and not represent a fringe political ideology. I will represent the average voter and small-business interest that are concerned about the cost of government, the burden of government regulations, and not waste time trying to revert back to the gold standard.”

Fritz Wiedenhoff, a 41-year-old firefighter, said he joined the four-way GOP primary race “just really to continue to serve.” He said, “I don’t have bones to pick with anybody. I’m running to represent the people.”

The winner of the four-way race will face Democrat Dan English in November. Although the highly conservative district hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Legislature since 1994, English is the well-known former county clerk, and a moderate who for many years was the only Democratic elected official in Kootenai County.

The district’s other two legislative seats are both held by close allies of Hart whom he recruited to run two years ago, Sen. Steve Vick and Rep. Vito Barbieri, both of Dalton Gardens.

Both Vick and Barbieri face challenges in the Republican primary this year as well, and Democratic challengers are standing by to run against the GOP primary winners in November. That’s an anomaly for this district – no Democrat has even run for the Legislature from the district since 2002.

Former state Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, whom Vick defeated two years ago and who’s challenging Vick in the primary, said, “We deserve better representation, we deserve better integrity and we deserve representation that doesn’t serve just a small segment of society.”

Jorgenson, 63, said, “A lot of people I talk to seem to be fed up and tired of the acrimony and the special agendas that this group represents.” He noted that as a former three-term senator, he has six years of seniority and could be in line for a committee chairmanship, as large numbers of legislative seats switch this year, due to everything from retirements to redistricting.

Vick, 55, said, “If they elect me, they elect somebody that they know is solid conservative on virtually every issue.”

Barbieri, 60, who made a splash his first year by pushing legislation attempting to “nullify” federal health care reform laws, said, “I think the key is to remain true to the conservative ideology. … It boils down to whether or not the conservative ideology is represented down there in Boise.”

His challenger, Hayden businessman Mark Fisher, 49, said, “I think the extreme right, my opponent and his cohort, they’re not paying attention to things that matter to most of the people that I talk to.” He mentioned Barbieri’s focus on issues like raw milk and gold and silver coinage. “That’s not what’s important to the people I’ve talked to – it seems to be a real fringe. It may have some merit there, but it’s not on my radar.”

Fisher said he wants to focus on “getting people back to work, providing jobs, growing our state economy.”

Fisher echoed Hart about the interest he’s seeing locally in this year’s legislative primary election, which historically has drawn low turnout and little interest. “There’s a whole lot of politics going on up here,” he said.

Vieselmeyer said issues aren’t as much at stake in this year’s race as people. “It’s either somebody else wins and represents them, or they continue to have Phil Hart representing them,” he said. “And that’s been an uncomfortable situation for a lot of people.”

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