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News >  Idaho

Conservative North Idaho legislator faces challenge from the right

In District 2, one of Idaho’s most conservative legislative districts, the seat formerly held by tax-protesting state Rep. Phil Hart has been going through political evolution.

Hart was defeated in the 2012 GOP primary by businessman and longtime local real estate appraiser Ed Morse, a board member of the Reagan Republicans who pushed to eliminate several long-standing legislative perks. Two years later, Morse was knocked off in the GOP primary by Eric Redman, a Christian conservative and retired insurance agency owner who has pushed unsuccessfully to ban Sharia law from being cited in Idaho court decisions.

Now, Redman is being challenged in this year’s May 17 GOP primary by Alan Littlejohn, a retired fire captain from California who’s a tax-cutting, government-shrinking, anti-regulation, anti-vaccination conservative – and claims Redman’s not conservative enough.

The two men live just 5 miles apart outside Athol, and Redman said he’d been in frequent contact with Littlejohn and had him to his house for dinner before he announced. Asked if the two were friends, he said, “I thought so.”

“I just don’t like the way he’s down there voting,” Littlejohn said. “It has nothing to do with Eric as a person – Eric is a wonderful gentleman.”

But, he said, “He’s down there extending the budgets, growing our government and basically restricting our freedoms.”

Redman said, “He’s just a lot more libertarian. Personally, I’m for limited government, but I’m not anti-government – I think we still have a responsibility.”

Both home-schooled their kids. But Redman also sponsored, through his insurance agency, a $2,000 annual prize for a student at each of the two high schools in the Lakeland School District who inspired and encouraged their peers, nominated by teachers and administrators and voted on by the students. He’s also a big backer of career-technical education, including new programs at North Idaho College.

Littlejohn has been pushing, without success, to get legislation introduced to raise the required passage rate for all school levies in Idaho to a two-thirds supermajority. That’s required now for long-term school bonds, but not short-term tax levies; growing numbers of Idaho school districts have been turning to local voters for override levies to help fund basic operations.

“It’d make them more accountable for the money they get,” Littlejohn said.

He also says he would work to significantly restrict state funding of colleges.

“I don’t think the state of Idaho should fund anything above the 12th grade.”

He acknowledged that state universities are in the state constitution.

“I want to freeze the budgets, is what I want to do,” he said.

He also said he’d like to see state employees cover more of the cost of their health insurance than they do now.

As a retired firefighter, Littlejohn, 53, lives on a $68,000-a-year pension from the state of California. He favors cutting taxes and regulations.

“I don’t vaccinate my kids at all,” he said.

Outbreaks of whooping cough in North Idaho in recent years are “not really a concern,” he said. “I know it’s kind of hard to hear that – the government’s not there to tell me how to live my life.”

Redman, 70, has lived in Kootenai County for 45 years. He serves on the boards of two Christian organizations, Reach America and Highway Evangelism.

“I was born again when I was 38 years old, and it’s been a focus of my life – it changed me,” he said. His faith has helped form his strong views on social issues, including strong opposition to abortion.

But it’s also made him concerned about the needs of Idaho’s “gap population,” those who make too little to qualify for subsidized health insurance through the state insurance exchange but aren’t covered by the state’s limited Medicaid program. He doesn’t favor traditional Medicaid expansion but wants Idaho to design an Idaho solution to help that group.

“There’s a lot more acute illnesses in that group because they are in poverty,” Redman said. He noted that he’s the only lawmaker on the Health and Welfare Committee, in either house, from north of Moscow.

“We need representation from up there, and I feel I have a background for that,” he said.

Littlejohn attempted to get a referendum on the Idaho ballot last year to overturn the 7-cent per gallon gas tax increase and vehicle registration fee increases that lawmakers approved in 2015 to fund road repairs; he gathered just 32 of the 47,432 signatures he needed. Littlejohn said he didn’t oppose the gas tax increase because it’s a user fee, but objected to the registration fee increase because it impacted owners of older vehicles.

The Redman-Littlejohn matchup isn’t the only contested race in District 2 in the May 17 election. The others:

Two Democratic hopefuls are facing off for a chance to challenge the winner of the GOP primary in November. Cooper Coyle, 21, is a recent graduate of North Idaho College from Kellogg who is making his first run for office; Richard Kohles, 76, is a real estate broker from Hayden and former Post Falls school board member.

Third-term Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, faces a GOP primary challenge from firefighter Fritz Wiedenhoff, 45, of Garwood, who has been critical of Barbieri for voting against education.

Wiedenhoff unsuccessfully challenged Barbieri in the primary two years ago. Barbieri, 64, a former lawyer who was ranked in a recent Idaho Statesman study of state lawmakers’ votes on budget bills as the foremost naysayer in the Legislature, was the only lawmaker who voted against all seven pieces of the public school budget this year, saying, “You’re just looking at so much money.”

The winner of that GOP contest will face Democrat Kathy Kahn in November; she’s unopposed in the primary. Also unopposed – in both the primary and general elections – is third-term District 2 Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens. Both Vick and Barbieri came into office as Hart allies, whom Hart encouraged to run for the seats.

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