Kris Sabo, of Sagle, was surprised when an official state-funded letter arrived in the mail from Idaho Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, talking about Nuxoll’s record and thanking supporters as she seeks re-election.
“My gosh, she’s from Cottonwood – where the heck is that?” Sabo asked. “If she’s using our money to help her campaign to keep her job, that shows disrespect for our money. Nobody’s going to pay for me to go out and try to keep my job.”
Sabo currently is in Idaho’s Legislative District 2 in the North Idaho Panhandle. But redistricting in Idaho next year will put her in the new District 7, which stretches from southeastern Bonner County all the way south to the Valley County line at the midsection of the state; Cottonwood is nearly a four-hour drive south from Sagle.
Though state senators can send out taxpayer-funded mailings, up to a $2,000 annual limit, they aren’t allowed to be used for campaigning. Nuxoll’s mailing is raising eyebrows because she sent it to about 1,700 Republicans not only in her current district but also in the new district she’d represent if she wins another term.
“I just approached it as informing people. This is an informational letter,” Nuxoll said. She added that she sent it just to Republicans “because I am a Republican and I had to limit the number of letters going out to keep under my limit by the state.”
Sabo said, “She can inform us all she wants, but she’s trying to justify a campaign letter by calling it a newsletter, and it’s not the same thing.”
Sabo’s current senator in District 2, Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, isn’t seeking re-election, instead running for the Bonner County Commission. Broadsword said she objected to Nuxoll’s mailing.
“I did send a letter to the pro-tem saying I don’t think this is appropriate,” Broadsword said. “You can’t expect the taxpayers to pay for you to campaign.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he wishes he had addressed the old district/new district issue with senators, but because it only comes up every 10 years – when new legislative districts take effect – no one thought of it.
“We probably should have discussed it and maybe even got some kind of ruling from the attorney general’s office,” Hill said.
Hill said about a third of senators send end-of-session letters; if they exceed the $2,000 limit for the session on state-funded correspondence, they have to pay for them themselves.
“We do talk to them about being careful about not asking for support for the upcoming election, not to make it a campaign thing,” he said.
House members have much stricter rules on mailings; they can send only 10 pieces of correspondence per week during the session at state expense, with a maximum for the session of 100. “The mail people enforce it,” said Terri Franks-Smith, chief fiscal officer for the House. She noted that members still do mailings, “but they pay for it themselves.”
Nuxoll’s two-page letter talks about her views and the bills that she co-sponsored this year, including SB 1387, the controversial and ultimately unsuccessful bill to require Idaho women seeking abortions to first undergo an ultrasound. “My goal is to protect traditional family values, to support less government intrusion in our lives, and reduce taxes with our strained economy,” she wrote. “Count on my commitment to my motto, ‘Less government, more opportunity’!”
In the next-to-last paragraph of her letter, she wrote, “I want to thank those who have supported me as I seek re-election for State Senator in the next term for the new District 7. With my experience in the Senate, I hope to continue as a common-sensed, conservative business Senator, with a heart for rural and small communities, a love for life and family, and faith in our Constitutional rights derived from God.”
Hill said, “I probably would have advised her to avoid that sentence (about seeking re-election), but it was certainly not a gross violation. What we particularly caution about is asking for someone’s vote or asking for a campaign contribution.”
Nuxoll, a first-term senator, faces Mary Wade Heston, of Kellogg, in the May 15 GOP primary. The winner of that matchup will face independent Jon Cantamessa, a current Shoshone County commissioner, in November.