BOISE – A trio of tea party sympathizers is challenging three longtime GOP incumbents in North Idaho’s legislative District 1, as Idaho gears up for its first closed Republican primary this year.
Pam Stout, president of the area’s Tea Party Patriots group, is challenging state Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, who’s seeking a seventh term in the state House. She’s made a splash with her tea party involvement in the past two years, appearing on the David Letterman show and being interviewed by the New York Times, though this is her first run for office.
“I’ve taken a leadership role both locally and statewide,” said Stout, who’s lived in Bonners Ferry for the past 18 months and previously lived in Sagle after relocating from California in 2001. “One thing about the tea party is, if ever I believed that my voice wasn’t heard, I had that totally pushed out of my mind.”
Candidate filing doesn’t open for another five weeks, but all three challengers have filed initial paperwork with the Idaho secretary of state to begin fundraising for their campaigns.
Jim Weatherby, Boise State University political scientist emeritus, said Idaho could well see more such races around the state. “Ideology, I think, will be a major feature in a lot of races, given the closed primary,” he said. “And that was really the purpose … to purify the party.”
Stout said she’d considered challenging eight-term state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, but when her friend and fellow tea party activist Danielle Ahrens wanted to run against Keough, “I said, ‘If you want to run against Shawn, I’ll run against George.’ ”
Keough, who defeated her last primary election challenger by a 3-to-1 margin, said, “I’m always appreciative of folks that want to serve and run for office. I think that’s one of the fundamentals of keeping our country the way it is.”
Eskridge said, “I think some of the goals in the tea party movement are good” and that he supports smaller government, fewer taxes and less regulation. But, he said, “I’m not supportive of going clear out to the right edge and letting your philosophy interfere with good government.” He added, “I think that’s one of the problems we have nationally.”
Donna Capurso, the Boundary County Republican Central Committee chairwoman and a real estate broker, is challenging District 1’s other lawmaker, state Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake. Said Capurso: “I kind of think the tea party is more like what the Republican Party used to be, more conservative. Compromise just about drives me nuts, because compromise, you get down to basically one viewpoint on everything instead of having a debate.”
However, she said, her main beef with Anderson is that he hasn’t attended her central committee meetings when invited. A six-year resident of Boundary County and former Bonner County resident, Capurso said she wants Boundary County’s interests represented more in the Legislature.
Anderson, who’s represented the district for the past eight years, responded, “I’ve been to Boundary County Republican meetings many times, but not the last couple years.” The meetings are held on Tuesday evenings, he said, and “I live about two hours away from there.
“Living at Priest Lake, I probably have more in common with Boundary County than Bonner County.”
Anderson, who’s known for his work in the Legislature to prevent the spread of invasive milfoil and quagga mussels in Idaho’s lakes and rivers, said, “I’ve worked very hard at the things I do. I’m a very conservative person. I’m not going to argue in a race to the bottom of conservatism. … I’m not a person of extremes in politics. I think that we have to be balanced in how we approach all political issues, and thoughtful.”
Capurso is a strong supporter of tax-protesting state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, against whom Anderson filed an ethics complaint last year.
Ahrens, who moved to North Idaho about six years ago, didn’t respond to requests for an interview. She told the Bonner County Daily Bee last week that she wants to attract jobs by cutting impact fees on businesses, and that she’s “pro-education” and “pro-life,” saying, “I value life from conception to death and beyond.”
Keough said, “It sounds like we share similar goals. I think that anybody that looks at my record on jobs and education will see that that’s exactly what I’ve spent my time in the Senate working on. Those remain issues in our district, that’s clear.”
Keough said she doesn’t approve of abortion, but has upset both sides in that debate on occasion by examining every proposed bill on its merits.
Stout says one of her big differences with Eskridge is over alternative energy. “I have very strong feelings that the alternative energy that Idaho is pushing is a wrong choice for citizens,” she declared. “He’s an advocate of alternative power – I definitely am not.”
Eskridge, who co-chairs Idaho’s interim committee on energy, said, “Most of my career has been in the energy field, and it’s obvious that our state is dependent upon, to some degree, imported energy to supply our electrical needs.” Developing renewable energy sources like geothermal, biofuels, solar and wind power could create jobs in Idaho, he said, and once some problems with solar and wind power delivery are worked out, could also deliver lower-cost power. “I think we need to recognize good energy policy requires diversity, to use all of our resources in a wise and efficient manner,” he said.
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