Two years after winning a seat representing Coeur d’Alene in the Idaho House of Representatives, incumbent Paul Amador’s campaign promise remains the same.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Amador said. “What I can promise is that I’m willing to sit and listen to people. I want to hear what my constituents have to say, and what they believe will make Idaho a better state to live and work and play in.”
Amador, a Republican, said he holds town halls two or three times a month in Coeur d’Alene in an attempt to gauge his constituents’ thoughts and needs.
In the most recent legislative session, Amador sponsored a bill allowing women to breastfeed in public. It passed unanimously, making Idaho the final state in the country to pass such legislation.
Amador’s re-election bid for a 4th Legislative District seat that represents Coeur d’Alene is challenged by Democrat Shem Hanks, said he is running to fight for the working class, specifically wage and tip workers. He said he plans to change a regulation that denies communities the right to raise the minimum wage beyond the state’s minumum..
“We have a large tip worker population in Coeur d’Alene. I want those individuals to have more take-home pay, lower poverty and more stability in their employment. A lot of that comes from not being paid $3.35 an hour,” Hanks said. “Money that’s flowing in isn’t trickling down necessarily to those who are working in our service-based industries.”
Amador rejected the idea that government could drive wages higher and called it “an artificial promise.” He said any company offering only minimum wage would have a hard time getting employees to show up to work.
Idaho is one of six states in the country that does not provide any state support for early childhood education and preschool. Amador co-sponsored the Idaho School Readiness Act, a partnership bill in collaboration with Idaho Businesses for Education and the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.
Amador said the bill is not intended to fund a government-run preschool system, but would provide resources for communities and small groups of parents to build early childhood education opportunities.
Hanks said he supports the bill but said the current Legislature would rather cut taxes than pass the act.
“I don’t think in Idaho we have a broken education system, but we do have a broken Legislature. We have a Legislature that refuses to fund education at the levels that 2018 requires,” Hanks said.
Amador voted yes on an amendment to Idaho’s tax laws that effectively cut taxes by $200 million, money Hanks said could have been spent to pass the School Readiness Act.
In higher education, Amador said student loan debts are a cause for concern, but added that Idaho’s public institutions are reasonably priced. He said he also supports technical programs and sponsored a bill expanding technical education training into middle school.
Hanks said Idaho residents are charged far more than they should be to attend the state’s public institutions. He wants to dedicate surplus tax revenue to alleviate student loan debt. He also said closing tax loopholes for special interest groups and corporations could help fund student loans.
Hanks said there is a lack of investment in higher education and that Idaho needs more workers trained in science, technology, engineering and math.
The Idaho Statesman reported in January that 7,000 STEM jobs went unclaimed in 2017, totaling $450 million in unclaimed wages. Filling those jobs would have generated $24 million in state tax revenues.
Hanks said he supports Proposition 2, the ballot initiative that would expand Medicaid to the 62,000 Idahoans in the state’s health care gap. Those in the gap make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to earn insurance subsidies. The initiative – backed by outgoing Gov. Butch Otter – would bring $400 million in tax revenue back to Idaho.
Hanks, who works in the mental health field, said 14,000 of those not covered by Medicaid suffer from some form of severe mental illness.
“If we expand Medicaid, we will have more employees,” Hanks said.
Amador said he wants to focus on the three-legged stool of health care: accessibility, affordability and coverage. He said he strongly supports the WWAMI program, which is Idaho’s medical doctor training program in collaboration with the University of Washington – and is focused on building residency slots in the state.
On guns, Amador said he is supportive of Idaho’s laws that have few restrictions on firearms.
Hanks said he supports Rep. Melissa Wintrow’s bill that would preclude convicted domestic abusers from owning guns.
Federal law already bars those convicted of misdemeanor or felony domestic violence from owning guns. The statute is contingent on corresponding with state law, which Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise, attempted to do with the bill. Amador voted to prevent the measure from moving to the Senate.
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