Tax-protesting Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart has drawn an opponent in the upcoming May GOP primary, as has his ally in their North Idaho legislative district, Rep. Vito Barbieri.
Longtime local businessmen Ed Morse and Mark Fisher have jointly announced their legislative bids, with Morse challenging Hart and Fisher challenging Barbieri. The primary election is May 15.
“As a businessman, I see very difficult job opportunities and economic conditions and I see little activity on the political front to cure those kinds of problems,” Morse said.
Morse is a longtime real estate consultant and appraiser from Hayden and a board member of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans; he holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Idaho and a law degree from Gonzaga University.
“I have worked for the people and businesses in this area for 39 years and am familiar with the challenges of job creation, costs of taxation, and the regulatory burdens facing local business and property owners,” Morse said. “I’ll work to try to lessen the burdens of government.”
Hart, a civil engineer and four-term state representative, didn’t return calls for comment. He published a guest opinion in the Lewiston Tribune on Wednesday defending his illegal harvesting of state-owned timber from school endowment lands in 1996, for which he never fully satisfied a court judgment.
As he did in repeated, unsuccessful court appeals, Hart argued in the newspaper that a citizen should be able to take state-owned timber for free for personal use. He used the logs to finish building his log home in Athol, which federal authorities are now trying to foreclose on to pay off Hart’s back federal income taxes. Hart has faced multiple ethics complaints in the Legislature, and gave up his seat on the tax committee and his vice chairmanship of the transportation committee to avoid ethics sanctions.
Fisher, 49, is the president and owner of Advanced Benefits, an employee benefits insurance and consulting firm in Hayden, and is a charter member and past president of the Sunrise Rotary Club and past chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Area Chamber of Commerce.
Like Morse, 61, he’s making his first run for elected office.
Fisher said he considered challenging Hart, but when he learned Morse would run against Hart, he chose to challenge Barbieri. He said his business experience positions him to “fight Obamacare and find free-market solutions for health care for Idahoans.”
Barbieri is a first-term lawmaker and attorney who’s not licensed to practice in Idaho; he made a big splash in his first term by unsuccessfully proposing legislation seeking to “nullify” the federal health care reform law.
“Narrow legalistic schemes and obscure political theories will not stop the federal government’s intrusion into our state health care system,” Fisher said. “It will require a broad coalition of Idahoans working together to fight for our state’s rights against federal takeover of our health care.”
Barbieri, who said he’s being encouraged to propose nullification legislation again this year, said he’s leaning toward holding off. “Since the Supreme Court has it, I’m reticent to jump back in again,” he said, referring to the federal health care law. “I think we need to just hold off, cool our heels, and wait to see.”
He said he’s planning to oppose setting up an Idaho health care exchange and to push for “sound money” legislation and efforts to fight illegal immigration.
“It’s too bad that the Republicans are divided,” Barbieri said. “If he (Fisher) really wants to throw his time and money away to run, he should certainly be free to do that. I’m quite confident with the support I have up there that I should have no trouble winning with a substantial margin.”
The contest comes in North Idaho’s former District 3, which will become District 2 under current legislative redistricting plans. The district is so conservative that no Democrat has even run for the Legislature there since 2002, and then there was just one candidate, who lost.
Morse called the GOP primary “the major contest in the district.”
Two years ago, both Hart and Barbieri were unopposed on the general election ballot, though a Republican write-in candidate garnered an unprecedented 25 percent of the vote against Hart.