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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Politics heat up in Idaho’s District 1 legislative races

Democrat Kate McAlister, left, faces incumbent Republican Heather Scott in the race for Legislative District 1, seat A in the November election (The Spokesman-Review)

In Idaho’s northernmost legislative district, the legislator who made headlines when she displayed the Confederate battle flag at a local parade and visited occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff in Oregon is fighting for re-election in a race that’s drawing attention across the state.

Controversial Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, is finishing her first term in the Idaho House. She faces Democrat Kate McAlister, president of the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, in the November election.

McAlister said she’s concerned about newcomers from the American Redoubt movement trying to influence local politics, with Scott as their standard-bearer, drawing on ideological rhetoric and focusing on federal, rather than local issues. “People just need to calm down,” she said. “I want good government, I want us to all get along.”

There have been allegations of harassment and intimidation by Scott supporters against McAlister supporters, and the Idaho attorney general’s office is investigating.

The district, which borders Canada and includes Boundary County and most of Bonner County, saw a shift two years ago, when two long-serving moderate Republican lawmakers were replaced by Scott, a tea party supporter, and ally Sage Dixon.

Dixon, R-Ponderay, defeated longtime Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, in the GOP primary, while Scott won an open seat when Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, retired. The district’s third lawmaker, longtime Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, easily withstood a challenge from the right in the primary. Keough’s Democratic challenger in November, Steve Tanner, is a tea party conservative who’s running as a Democrat.

Eskridge, a lifelong Republican, donated $800 from his campaign fund to McAlister’s campaign. “I don’t think Heather is representing the district well,” he said. “I’m still a Republican, I’m not a Democrat. But I have to do what I think is best for the district.”

Eskridge said Scott has been busy with ideological issues, rather than paying attention to things like the district’s road and school needs.

Eskridge has only kind words for Dixon, who defeated him.

“I think Sage is trying to do a good job and learning the responsibilities he has to be a good representative for the district,” Eskridge said. When Eskridge attended a Bonner County Area Transportation Committee meeting last week along with mayors, county commissioners and state transportation officials, Dixon was there, he noted, as were Keough and McAlister. But Scott didn’t attend.

Scott says her top issues are “Educating voters on how to engage and control government, strengthening our state sovereignty which provides benefits to business and families; eliminating Idaho’s dependency on federal dollars.”

She favors transferring federal public lands to the state and wants to repeal Idaho’s state health insurance exchange. Scott has developed a network of strongly motivated supporters, many of whom make a point of openly carrying guns in public. She also has worked to educate her supporters about the state’s obscure administrative rules approval process and worked hard last year in an unsuccessful effort to derail a popular conservation easement in the Clagstone Meadows area in North Idaho.

She’s had harsh words for her fellow lawmakers from both parties. Scott said her constituents encouraged her to run again “to continue to spearhead educating the engaged voter,” and said she’s built an “extensive network of engaged citizens in District 1 and around the state.”

McAlister’s top issues are education, keeping public lands public, infrastructure improvements, economic development and new jobs.

“As the chamber president, I was very concerned about the future of education, the future of our economy, because we had a representative who was voting ‘no’ on everything,” McAlister said. “I love North Idaho, I’m very passionate about where we live, I’m passionate about retaining our quality of life, and quite honestly I was finding it hard to sleep at night.”

Dixon’s opponent, Stephen Howlett, won a rare write-in victory in the primary, defeating another tea party conservative, Bob Vickaryous, who was running on the Democratic ticket. Vickaryous is known for manning the John Birch Society booth each year at the Boundary County Fair. Howlett favors investing in education and economic development and raising the minimum wage, and said Dixon represents “an agenda of ultraright conservatives.”

Dixon is a home-schooling advocate who, like Scott, favors transferring federal land to the state and joined Scott in visiting the Malheur Refuge occupiers. During the House debate this year on a bill authorizing use of the Bible in Idaho schools, he famously said, “The little Supreme Court in my head says this is OK.” GOP Gov. Butch Otter vetoed the bill, saying it directly violated the Idaho Constitution.