For the last two elections, one North Idaho legislative district saw few contested races, as popular incumbents were repeatedly re-elected. This year is different, with fourth-term Republican Rep. Frank Henderson facing a challenge in the May 15 primary, and two newcomers facing off for the open seat that Rep. Bob Nonini is leaving to run for the state Senate.
“Had I not run … we would have given an incumbent his third straight term without opposition, and I find that to be un-American,” said Jack Schroeder, 73, Henderson’s primary challenger. “At least they know there’s another alternative, and there’s another person who’s willing to go out there and fight for what he thinks is right, just like Frank has done for all these years.”
Schroeder said he wants to bring what’s now legislative District 3 “new leadership and new direction.”
Henderson not only has served four terms in the Legislature, he’s well-known as a former Kootenai County commissioner, former mayor of Post Falls, former newspaper publisher and the current Legislature’s oldest member at 89, though one of its most energetic.
Henderson said, “I don’t like to be critical, but I’ve got tremendous involvement in local government, city government, county government, state government. I’ve got the experience to be relevant and hopefully effective on most every issue. My opponent has never held an office; he’s not active in local meetings. … Recognizing we may have 20 or 25 new members in the House, having members that are experienced is going to be more valuable than usual.”
Henderson made waves in 2011 by giving up a coveted seat on the powerful joint budget committee to focus on economic development. Now vice-chairman of the House Business Committee, this year he managed to push through the first sales tax break to win the support of the Senate tax committee in at least four years, to boost Idaho businesses that install parts into out-of-state aircraft. Henderson said the bill will directly create dozens of jobs in Idaho.
“I’m going to continue my emphasis on economic development and creating jobs,” Henderson said. He wants to work with new state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer on a strategy that focuses on helping existing Idaho companies expand.
Schroeder, an insurance agent, takes a different tack, saying, “I think we have to start to turn back to where we were 200 years ago. I think if we don’t do that even on the state level, we’re going to fall into oblivion. We’re getting ready for a big downfall economically in this country.”
He wants lower taxes and deep cuts in pay for state workers, who received a 2 percent pay raise this year after four straight years of zero raises; current state studies estimate that state employee pay lags 18.6 percent below market rates.
“Somebody has to stand up and say we don’t have the money,” Schroeder said. “We can’t keep giving increases out and having all these people out of work. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not economically sound.”
The winner of the two-way primary race will face Democrat Ronald K. Johnson, of Post Falls, in November.
The district’s other House seat, formerly held by Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, has attracted two candidates in the GOP primary, the winner of which will face Democrat David Larsen in November: Ron Mendive and Jeff Tyler, both of Coeur d’Alene. Both currently serve on the county GOP central committee.
Tyler has won the endorsements of Henderson and Nonini, and he is a local contractor and GOP activist. He’s a founder of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans and the Pachyderm Club in Post Falls.
Mendive, who has an excavation and construction business and is affiliated with the United Conservatives of North Idaho, said his main platform is to preserve liberty; Tyler said his is to cut taxes and reduce regulations.
Tyler said, “It was funny because I was at a tea party event here, and a lady asked us both, ‘How come you guys are running against each other? You guys sound the same.’ ”
Mendive said, “I just want to make sure that we’re represented in a conservative manner.”
Nonini is unopposed in the primary in his bid for the district’s Senate seat, but he will face Democrat Kristy Reed Johnson, of Post Falls, on the November ballot.