SANDPOINT – A retired sheriff’s deputy and two construction company owners are trying to convince Bonner and Boundary county voters that they have the credentials to replace the longest serving Idaho State Senator in state history.
When Shawn Keough announced her retirement after 22 years serving the Idaho’s District 1, it left a void that three Republican challengers, Jim Woodward, Scott Herndon and Danielle Ahrens, are vying to fill. They face off in the May 15 primary election for a chance to face Democrat Vera Gadman in the November general election.
Keough has endorsed Jim Woodward, a native of North Idaho, who left home and served for a time on the nuclear ballistic-missle submarine U.S.S. Alabama.
“Jim’s deep roots in our area and his commitment to our North Idaho values coupled with his background and service to our country give him the experience needed to represent us in the Idaho State Senate,” Keough said last July. “ I support Jim 100 percent, and hope you will join me in voting to send him to represent us in Boise.”
Woodward appeared Tuesday during a packed candidates forum at a packed Sandpoint High School auditorium.
“I’m asking to serve just because I have these ties and I have a belief in our system and want to see strong leadership for the district,” he said to applause.
Ahrens, another contender, is a 58-year-old retired sheriff’s deputy who worked in California, but returned to the Sandpoint area where her family had settled in the 1880s. She has been active in the Republican party for the last decade.
“I have spent the last 10 years getting ready to serve you as your state senator,” she said. “I have proven to you over the years … that I’m a problem solver. This is what I dedicate my service to, is serving my community and my constituents.”
While both Ahrens and Woodward grew up in the area, Republican challenger Scott Herndon moved to Sagle in 2004 from San Francisco.
“We need more people paying attention to the constitution,” Herndon said. “That’s the number one job of everybody down there. So, we basically need people in our state senate and state house who are willing to say no to federal unconstitutional programs.”
Both Ahrens and Herndon voiced opposition to the proposed $325 silicon smelter in Newport. Woodward said he has concerns with the plan, which would include a 150-foot smoke stack upwind of Sandpoint, but said he wants to wait for more information before he makes a decision.
“I share those concerns about a large-scale industrial facility close to our area of the Northwest, where we have clean air and clean water,” Woodward said. “What we don’t have is an actual design to look at and any real numbers.”
While Woodward said he supports the 2nd Amendment, he wouldn’t go as far as Ahrens and Herndon when it comes to gun rights.
“The 2nd Amendment was put into place to secure our God given right to defend ourselves against those who would commit offenses against us, and that includes a rogue government,” Ahrens said to applause. “That has to be the number one right, because that protects and secures all of our other rights.”
Herndon, a home builder since 2005, said he believes any restrictions to gun ownership, including the 1986 federal ban on automatic weapons, are unconstitutional, and supports allowing convicted felons to petition to restore their gun rights after they have served their prison sentences.
“There should be no legislation from the state, the county or the federal government infringing or encroaching on the right of citizens to keep and bear arms,” he said. “If some guy wants to own an M60 machine gun and shoot off a million rounds, and spend a whole bunch of money doing so, on his property just because he thinks it’s fun, then it’s the duty of the state legislature to uphold the 2nd Amendment and (Idaho) constitution to allow him to do so.”
Woodward, like many candidates, said the state needs to solve the funding situation for public schools and he wants to see more vocational opportunities for students, who could immediately move into waiting jobs in the area.
“As a society, we have to put value on education,” Woodward said. “That’s the cornerstone of our success.”
But both Ahrens and Herndon said the education funding solution must include more choices for parents.
“Whether you want to send your children to charter schools, private schools, public schools or home school, the money should follow the student,” she said. “That way you would ensure that your child is not a one-size-fits-all situation.”
Herndon said he would divert more attention to charter schools “that are more specialized and customize their education.
“We also need to uphold home school,” he said to loud applause. “I don’t like pointing fingers … but there are candidates running that would register and test for home schoolers. And I totally oppose that. We have great results for hardly any money from our home schooling families.”