Both Republicans vying to replace Idaho state Rep. Tim Remington next year promise to uphold traditionally conservative values.
Idaho’s first all-mail election is Tuesday, and several primaries for Legislative and other offices are on the ballot.
In a Republican primary in Legislative District 2, which represents northern Kootenai County, Doug Okuniewicz and Tim Kastning, have been active in the local GOP.
Both candidates align on many goals, including a desire to reduce taxes, support the Second Amendment and oppose abortion rights. The most significant difference lies in their elected or appointed office experience.
Okuniewicz ran for the same seat two years ago against John O. Green after the incumbent declined to seek reelection. Green won the election, but was expelled from the Legislature in January after he was convicted in federal court of conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with a tax-evasion case. Remington was appointed to finish the term.
Okuniewicz said he was motivated to run in 2018 by a legislator serving in a different part of the state who was not voting in the interests of the people.
“We don’t see all of the inner workings of government, but until we end up seeing things that don’t make sense to us it strikes us that it shouldn’t be as hard as it seems to do the right thing,” he said. “And doing the right thing is doing what the constituents in your area want.”
Candidate Tim Kastning agreed to be interviewed only by email. He pointed to his extensive experience working with the Kootenai County Republican Party, which he said has propelled his desire to serve people in North Idaho and preserve conservative values.
Remington, who was appointed by Gov. Brad Little, said it was an honor to serve the state but decided not to run for a second term because he is more of a pastor than a politician. He praised both candidates but decided to endorse Kastning, who is a member of Remington’s congregation.
“He’s been involved in politics for quite a while up here locally,” he said. “I’ve known him as a man of truth and of integrity.”
Many Idahoans have expressed concern over a proposed prison reentry center in North Idaho. Okuniewicz said he began to work at a local level to prevent the center from being built by suggesting and drafting a new code that would give cities and counties more autonomy over those decisions. The problem people have is that people not from the area will be reintroduced into public life without residents’ consent, Okuniewicz said.
“I’ve been actively fighting the reentry center issue,” he said, “So I’m a little ahead of the game and I have a lot of existing relationships with current legislators, which will make it easier for me to hit the ground running.”
Kastning said he also opposes the building of the reentry center. The Legislature voted to fund the center in 2019, but efforts are being made to prevent that from happening, he noted.
The candidates also have focused on refugee settlement in the state.
After President Donald Trump declared that states were allowed to decline refugee resettlement, Idaho opted to support refugees because some southern Idaho counties wanted to keep running refugee resettlement programs, Okuniewicz said. He said there should be more community input about whether refugees should be allowed.
“Everyone in Idaho is sensitive to the plight of refugees … but we’ve had some other bad things happen in some refugee communities, so some people are upset about it,” Okuniewicz said.
Kastning said he had concerns with the refugee screening process, how the federal government has handled refugee programs and the extended costs and welfare programs available to refugees when Idaho residents also have many needs.
“Until these concerns are addressed and the citizens of Idaho are comfortable with the settlement programs, I oppose expanding the refugee program,” he said.
Another major issue both candidates plan to address is increasing property taxes.
The state government will have to decrease its spending for leaders to be able to reduce property taxes, Kastning said. Without reducing government spending, any plan to reduce those taxes is a moot point, he said in an email.
Okuniewicz said property taxes are skyrocketing partly because of the increasing number of people moving into the area, which is particularly stressful for those with fixed incomes. Finding a solution or a way to address that remains at the forefront of his mind, he said.
The winning Republican candidate will face off against Libertarian candidate Jennifer Luoma in the November election.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on May 16, 2020 to correct an error made by an editor. In an interview with the reporter Okuniewicz did not specify which legislator motivated him to run for the seat in 2018 by not voting in a way he felt was in the interests of the people. Okuniewicz said that legislator served in a different part of the state.
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