It’s a third-time rematch: Steve Elgar, who lost to Idaho state Rep. Eric Anderson by only a fraction of a percentage point two years ago after a narrow loss in 2004, is challenging the Republican again this year for the third time.
“I’ve knocked on 5,000 doors since the first of March,” said Elgar, a Democrat from Sandpoint. “I think we need new public servants in Idaho. … I think that the influence of special interests, big business lobbyists, has gotten out of hand and that they have more influence on our legislators than their constituents do.”
Anderson, now a two-term lawmaker who’s made his mark by pushing major legislation to combat invasive species including milfoil and quagga mussels, said of his opponent, “I think he’s got some ideas also. … If the people of my district feel my ideas are worthy of moving forward, I’ll be successful in this election, and if not, I won’t.”
Anderson, a developer and former contractor from Priest Lake, pushed so relentlessly for lawmakers to recognize the problem of Eurasian water milfoil choking Idaho lakes and waterways that he became widely known in the statehouse as Morty Milfoil, a nickname seatmates coined for him but that he enthusiastically adopted.
“I think it’s funny, I think it’s wonderful,” Anderson said. “It certainly helped get our cause through and for people to understand.”
Due in large part to Anderson’s work, Idaho has targeted $12 million in three years toward eradicating invasive species including milfoil, and also passed a far-ranging invasive species act this year that will allow new preventive campaigns against invasive quagga mussels and other animal invaders and noxious weeds.
“We have diminished the populations of milfoil in the state just absolutely dramatically,” Anderson said.
Elgar, an oceanographer for the U.S. Navy, is critical of Anderson’s push because of the amount of herbicides it’s brought to area waterways.
“He is responsible for putting $2 million worth of chemical herbicides in surrounding lakes every year,” Elgar said. “I don’t like milfoil either. But Rep. Anderson has steadily refused any alternatives. … I disagree with Mr. Anderson on this use of chemicals only. I will certainly work hard to do research on alternatives for management of milfoil.”
Elgar says his biggest concern is adequate and fair funding for education, and policies that will help small businesses in North Idaho “so they can provide more and better jobs, decent wages, health care.”
Rather than tax breaks for Idaho’s largest businesses, Elgar said, he’d “reroute that money to helping small businesses,” through such measures as low-interest loans and incentives for providing health coverage to workers.
Anderson said economic growth also is a top concern for him. He cited legislation he sponsored this year to open up state endowment lands to renewable energy projects, such as wind and geothermal power generation.
“I’ve already been meeting with several different developers that are very interested in doing just that,” Anderson said. “We need to recognize that we have great natural resources in wind, geothermal, and we need to capitalize on that.”
North Idaho state endowment lands could see woody biomass, now burned in slash piles, go instead to power generation, Anderson said. “It also is a much more environmentally correct way of disposing of that.”
Earnings from state endowment lands go directly to public schools and other state institutions, such as universities, Anderson noted.
“That’s the beauty of it,” he said. “You get projects like those on those lands, the Legislature is not going to be able to get their fingers on it, that’s where it goes.”
Anderson also sponsored legislation this year to give tax rebates to companies that come to Idaho to make movies, though that program has not yet been funded; and to ensure workers compensation coverage for volunteer firefighters. He has several other measures in the works for volunteer firefighters and other volunteer first responders; he’s a volunteer firefighter himself and a former fire commissioner.
Anderson also worked on the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan, which includes incentives for developing renewable energy but not mandates; and supported a gradual phase-down of the sales tax on groceries that passed this year. “I think that’s a tremendous move,” he said.
Elgar said he’d like to work for a bigger share of road funding for North Idaho, supports a higher minimum wage and wants state funding for schools increased, rather than looking to property taxes.
“I think schools are the most important thing the state invests in and that we need to do a better job,” Elgar said.
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