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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Idaho

Vigorous campaigns waged for District 1

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

There’s nothing mundane about the election in Idaho’s northernmost legislative district.

One race features an unopposed, yet hard-campaigning incumbent. Another seat is being challenged by a phantom Democrat. The most heated race, for seat A of House District 1, pits an oceanographer against a former private investigator and a Navy veteran.

The lively, three-way campaign is for the seat held by retiring Rep. John Campbell, R-Sandpoint. Democrat Steve Elgar has raised about $63,000 and says he’s knocked on at least 6,000 doors in a spirited effort to regain the seat for his party. Republican Eric Anderson, of Priest Lake, is armed with $26,000 in contributions – a hefty sum in its own right – but Anderson faces some conservative votes being siphoned away by Libertarian Frank Reichert.

Republican George Eskridge is running without opposition for the District 1 House Seat B position. The Dover incumbent insisted, however, that he is campaigning as if he had a fierce opponent. “I’m still going to campaign as hard as I ever do,” he said. “I want to know what my constituents want. It all comes down to accountability. I don’t want them to think I’m taking this for granted.”

Although Republican Shawn Keough has a challenger for her District 1 Senate Seat, the Democrat, Patty “Douglas” Palmer, has been absent from many campaign forums. Palmer, of Sandpoint, has filed updated campaign finance reports with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, but the reports show that she has neither raised nor spent a cent on the race.

For District 1’s House Seat A, Libertarian Frank Reichert knows he faces steep odds.

“Yeah, it’s a long shot, you don’t have to tell me that,” the 23-year Navy veteran said. Reichert was trounced in 2000 when he ran for the district’s senate seat. He finished with 350 votes. The winner, Shawn Keough, received 8,461.

Reichert said he began campaigning months earlier this time and he expects voters to find appealing his themes of boosting natural resource jobs and supporting a “market-driven education system” in which public schools would have to compete with private schools, charter academies and home schools for tax funds. He also wants to put a cap on the appraised value of homes, and have gradual, cost-of-living-style increases for property values.

Reichert considered running as a Republican, but he thought voters would best be served by a third party.

“You get caught in this machine; (the party) sort of dictates how it’s going to be,” he said. “If I did win, I could make deals with the Democrats and the Republicans. That’s what we really need. We need some new blood in there to challenge the status quo.”

Reichert said “almost an invisible line” separates his positions from that of Anderson, the Republican candidate. “We sort of steal each other’s thunder,” Reichert said.

Anderson, a lifelong Priest Lake resident and former private eye, said his views might be similar to Reichert’s, but the two have different levels of experience. Reichert’s “ideas are correct, but I’m the one that’s been doing it,” Anderson said. “I’ve been on the committees. I’ve been on the boards. I know how to achieve it.”

Anderson has served on more than a dozen different governing boards and committees, including the local sewer district, electric cooperative and fire department. In a veiled dig at his Democratic opponent, Anderson said he might not have knocked on as many doors during the campaign, but he has spent years listening to the concerns of local residents.

“I didn’t come down from the mountain to find out what people needed,” Anderson said. “I’ve had 7,000 people knock on my door or call my phone. But that’s happened for 25 years. I live here. This is where my home is.”

Property tax relief and creating natural resource jobs are also the top priorities of Anderson. “We have to recognize the trees in North Idaho are what the wheat is to the Palouse,” he said.

Water quality issues are also a major topic of concern for residents of Bonner and Boundary counties. Both Anderson and Elgar are opposed to the proposed Rock Creek Mine. The ammonium nitrate used to blast rock at the mine could wash downstream, acting as a fertilizer for a burgeoning infestation of Eurasian milfoil in Lake Pend Oreille, Anderson said. Milfoil, he added, needs to be a focus of the next Legislature.

“It could absolutely cripple our economy,” Anderson said. “We need to wage war on this stuff and we need to do it one hundredfold from what we’re doing now. The counties simply don’t have the funds to do it.”

Democrat Elgar said his background as an oceanographer and, previously, an engineering professor at Washington State University and the University of Idaho, give him unrivaled insight into the water and education issues facing the state.

“I think I’ll have very high credibility in Boise about water issues,” Elgar said. “This coming legislative session water is going to be one of the major topics. … These are things that I’ve spent my whole life doing.”

Strengthening the university system is another of Elgar’s causes. He said the issue was driven home recently when his daughter, a freshman at the University of Idaho, announced she was considering other schools because classes she needs have been cut.

“We need a strong university system for economic development,” Elgar said. “Our current Legislature has not been generous to the universities at all.”

Along with his experience teaching and running a small business, Elgar also points out that he spent time during the early 1970s working as a sheepherder and school bus driver in a rural part of central Idaho.

Elgar said the bedrock of his campaign has been knocking on 6,200 doors to hear the concerns of voters. The conversations have convinced Elgar that property tax reform and providing affordable health insurance need to be legislative priorities.

“This is universal in North Idaho,” he said. “People are worried.”

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