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Russ Fulcher faces Democrat, Libertarian in bid for third term representing North Idaho in Congress

Nov. 4, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 4, 2022 at 11:11 p.m.

By Betsy Z. Russell Idaho Press

U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher has staked out his ground as a hard-line conservative and Trump supporter in his first two terms representing Idaho in Congress.

Fulcher, a Republican who is seeking a third two-year term and faces Democrat Kaylee Peterson and Libertarian Darian Drake on the November ballot, went on Fox and Friends the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, to tout his plan to object to certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

“This is going to be a monumental day in America’s history, make no mistake about it,” Fulcher told the network. “There are tens of millions of people who want to see some action on this. They are absolutely convinced there is election fraud. We have a real problem on our hands if we don’t act here.”

After the attack on the Capitol that followed – during which Fulcher was in the House chamber – he told the Lewiston Tribune he was in “anger mode” because “we had some serious business to attend to, and here some knuckleheads were trying to break in.” But he defended his position and was the only member of Idaho’s all-GOP delegation to vote against certifying the election results.

Fulcher, who declined to be interviewed for this article, said in written comments submitted to the Idaho Press that voters should re-elect him because of his “broad life experience in both the private and public sectors, with a measurable track record, priorities that align with most Idahoans, plus the skill set and drive to remain successful in the job.”

He’s staunchly opposed abortion from the point of conception, backed absolute support for gun rights and strongly objected to Democratic policies, including spending, immigration and health care proposals. As his top accomplishment in office, he cites his office’s constituent services work, which he said has obtained the release of more than $5 million from the federal government to Idahoans, mainly related to veterans benefits and income taxes.

Fulcher also cites his sponsorship of the MAPLand Act, which passed in April and directed federal agencies to digitize public lands boundaries to improve access; it was backed by Idaho’s entire congressional delegation. And he says he worked to ensure that faith-based and nonprofit organizations were included under the Paycheck Protection Program; and to direct federal funds to rural Idaho broadband and health care programs that were funded under the CARES Act in 2020.

He’s drawn the line, however, at requesting any earmarks or “member-directed spending” for his district, garnering criticism for passing up federal funds his district, which includes North Idaho, otherwise could have received. In 2021, Fulcher was one of 30 House Republicans who pledged never to request those.

In a guest opinion, he called such funds “pet-project spending,” and wrote, “Despite continued criticism from the media accusing me of not caring about my district and ‘opting out’ of securing funding for Idaho, I have fought the return of earmarks since the day they were rumored to return.

“Every federal spending bill is an invoice to our grandchildren,” he wrote.

Fulcher lists his top three issues this year as promoting individual personal liberties; border security; and energy independence. According to research by politics news website, fivethirtyeight.com, Fulcher voted with then-President Trump 95.7% of the time.

Fulcher has refused to debate his opponents this year, drawing condemnation from Peterson, who heads the speech and debate team at the College of Western Idaho, where she’s a student. “He consistently puts politics over country,” she said in a statement. “Refusing to debate is a slap in the face to voters.”

Here’s a look at the three candidates in the race:

Russ Fulcher

Fulcher, 60, worked for Micron Technology for 15 years, working his way up from night-shift production line worker to division director of sales and marketing, then worked in international sales and marketing for Preco Electronics for nine years. In 2006, he became a commercial real estate broker before being elected to Congress in 2018. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a Master in Business Administration from Boise State University.

Fulcher served four terms in the Idaho Senate, representing Meridian from 2006 to 2014 and was elected majority caucus chair. In 2014, he challenged then-Gov. Butch Otter from the right in the GOP primary, taking 43.6% of the vote to Otter’s 51.4%.

Fulcher announced another run for governor in 2018, but withdrew after then-1st District GOP Rep. Raúl Labrador entered the race, earning Labrador’s endorsement for his former seat in Congress. Fulcher won a seven-way GOP primary that year with 43.1% of the vote, then won the November election with 62.8% of the vote; in 2020, he was re-elected with 67.8%. He was unopposed in this year’s GOP primary.

Fulcher has faced personal issues in recent years, suffering major injuries in a motorcycle accident shortly after the 2018 primary; quietly divorcing from his wife of 32 years in September of that year during his first congressional campaign; and being diagnosed with renal cancer in 2021, forcing him to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. He temporarily lost his hair, but announced joyfully in December 2021 that doctors had pronounced him cancer-free.

Fulcher in a recent campaign video declared, “In just two years, we’ve seen the damage that a Democrat-controlled Congress and presidency can do. … I’m in the fight to save our country.”

Kaylee Peterson

Peterson, 32, is currently a full-time student at the College of Western Idaho in Nampa who is double-majoring in political science and criminal justice. She was involved in Idaho politics, including managing a campaign for state Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, before marrying and starting her family, and opting to stay home full time with her two kids, now 10 and 5; she and her husband also became foster parents.

“Then 2016 happened, and I saw a real shift in how people viewed politics,” she said. “It became divisive, and no one was really happy with what was happening around them. That’s when I decided to go back to school and get my degree so I could go into public policy.”

Peterson said she decided to run for Congress because she wanted voters in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, which stretches from the Treasure Valley and points south all the way north to the Canadian border, to have a choice. “What Russ Fulcher has done with his position over the last four years is unacceptable to me and the people of Idaho,” she said, “so I decided to run.”

At the College of Western Idaho, in addition to heading the speech and debate team, Peterson has served as chief of staff for the student government, served on several boards, and organized volunteers in a partnership between the college, Global Gardens and the Idaho Office of Refugees.

Her family homesteaded in the North Eagle foothills in the late 1800s; she grew up going back and forth between Idaho and Connecticut before moving to Idaho full time at the age of 11.

She lists her top three issues as government accountability and transparency, in order to restore public trust in government; public lands access and conservation; and health care, including both mental and physical health care and veterans services.

“My No. 1 goal is to get people enthusiastic and connected to the political process again,” Peterson said. “We need to see voter turnout. We need to see people who believe that their government can provide what they need to survive, that they can trust that the government is going to do what it needs to do to keep our communities safe, to keep our economy secure.”

She said she wants “to remind people what government is supposed to be.”

“I think it’s time to bring enthusiastic regular Idahoans back into our political process,” she said, “and that’s something I can provide.”

Darian Drake

Drake, 49, just became the Libertarian nominee for the 1st Congressional District seat in September, when previous two-time nominee Joe Evans withdrew amid a split in the Idaho Libertarian Party. “I was shoved into this position,” Drake said. “I had considered it in a couple of years, but at this point, it was like, well, this is what’s happening.”

Drake has lived in Idaho for five and a half years after moving from California to Post Falls, and is a former mortician with a degree in mortuary science.

He lists his top issues as individual rights; “bringing back our troops and focusing on our country vs. policing the world;” and medical privacy, which he called “the big one.”

“It comes down to what decisions you make about your health should be between you and your doctor,” Drake said, “whether that’s a vaccine mandate, whether you should or shouldn’t have an abortion, or something like that. … It’s nobody else’s business.”

He said he favors term limits for Congress because “they’re leeches.”

“We’re in Idaho,” he said. “If there’s not an ‘R’ by my name, I really don’t have a chance.” But he said he hopes enough voters “like my snark and my wit” enough to consider sending him to Congress.

“We’ve been joking that my campaign slogan is ‘(expletive) ‘em,’ ” he said. “I would want to go there and show that regular people, average Joes off the street, can do this. You don’t have to have career politicians.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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