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Two Idaho candidates hope to restore reputation of lieutenant governor’s office

Oct. 23, 2022 Updated Sun., Oct. 23, 2022 at 9:02 p.m.

By Ryan Suppe Idaho Statesman

Two candidates for Idaho lieutenant governor said they hope to restore integrity to the office, after Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s single term was sullied by conflict with the governor and budget mishaps.

But House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican from Oakley, and Boise attorney Terri Pickens Manweiler, a Democrat, seem to agree on little else.

Bedke, an 11-term lawmaker, touts conservative tax policy, water rights mediation and support for education among his legislative accomplishments. As lieutenant governor, Bedke hopes to maintain Idaho’s quality of life amid population growth, he told the Idaho Statesman by phone. That means preserving its business-friendly climate and improving educational opportunities, he said.

“My priority will be to promote Idaho, as it always has been, and to be a problem-solver,” Bedke said. “That’s my track record. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”

Pickens Manweiler, on the other hand, wants to bring an alternative voice to Idaho’s GOP-dominated executive branch, she told the Statesman by phone. Her campaign largely has focused, negatively, on Bedke’s tenure as House speaker, when lawmakers ran roughshod over abortion rights, school budgets and LGBTQ rights. Pickens Manweiler said she’s “running to stop the chaos in the Capitol.”

“We’re a system of two-party government, but Idaho is operating as a one-party government right now,” she said. “And we need to get away from that, get back to governing from the middle.”

Perennial candidate Pro-Life, an Emmett man who changed his name from Marvin Richardson, is running for lieutenant governor representing the Constitution Party. In 2020, Pro-Life collected 2.2% of the vote in a bid for the U.S. House.

Candidates want return of dignified office

Idaho’s lieutenant governor has little authority, except to oversee a small office budget, fill in when the governor is absent and serve as president of the Idaho Senate, whose primary function is supervisory and who has no power to shape legislation.

But the position often serves as a springboard to higher office. Five of nine lieutenant governors since 1975 have become governor. McGeachin tried to be the sixth when she took the rare step to challenge a sitting governor from her own party.

McGeachin had a tense relationship with Republican Gov. Brad Little before she challenged his re-election bid. Twice, McGeachin, without consulting Little, issued executive orders while the governor was traveling. Little quickly rescinded both.

Pickens Manweiler said, despite being from a rival party, she’s “quite confident” she would have a good relationship with Little, if they’re both elected next month.

“We need to have a lieutenant governor who respects the governor and a governor who respects the lieutenant governor,” she said.

McGeachin also mismanaged her office’s $183,100 budget, spending $33,000 more than allocated for operating expenses. Most of the overspending covered $29,000 in legal fees after the Idaho Press Club successfully sued McGeachin last year, when she declined to hand over public records.

“A priority is to return the dignity to the office of lieutenant governor,” Bedke said. “Idaho deserves a synergistic, hard-working team that pulls the state in the same direction in their No. 1 and No. 2 spots.”

Business-friendly House speaker backed by heavy hitters

Former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in 2000 appointed Bedke to a vacant seat in the Idaho House. The Oakley rancher – whose family has raised livestock in Idaho since the 1800s – was active in groups, like the Idaho Cattle Association, representing agriculture interests that include public land grazing and water rights.

Bedke’s colleagues named him House speaker in 2012, and he’s held the position since. Bedke’s culminating legislative achievement was negotiating a 2015 agreement that appeased rivaling surface- and ground-water users.

“The main thing that I learned as speaker is that everybody wants to be heard,” he said. “You can always find disagreement, but the disagreements are usually the product of closely held beliefs, and those are hard to change.”

Little, the frontrunner in the governor’s race, endorsed Bedke, who has allied with Little on his top priorities, including cutting taxes and reducing regulations. Bedke also scored endorsements from dozens of GOP lawmakers, agriculture and business industry groups, police and firefighter unions and the National Rifle Association, according to Bedke’s website.

Campaign finance reports show Bedke has raked in about $1 million in donations, more than triple the amount McGeachin raised during her 2018 campaign.

But 84% of Bedke’s money came in before the May primary election, when he faced off with hard-right McGeachin ally Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird. Bedke collected 52% of the vote compared with Giddings’ 43%.

“Idahoans recognized the importance of this election, particularly at the primary level,” Bedke said. “Rank-and-file Idahoans are behind me. They’ve seen my proven track record. They trust me as a leader, and therefore, they put their money where their mouth is.”

Bedke has spent more than $700,000 on advertising for his campaign, but only a fraction – about $77,000 – has been spent in the five months since the primary, according to Idaho secretary of state campaign finance reports.

Bedke’s recent advertisements don’t mention his Democratic opponent but instead focus on President Joe Biden. One ad, which pits “Bedke vs. Biden,” bemoans the Democratic president’s border security policies and blames Biden for inflation and high gas prices.

“Joe Biden is ruining our country,” a narrator says in the video. “Scott Bedke is fighting back.”

Attorney looks to clean up ‘culture war legislation’

Pickens Manweiler is a political newcomer and former Republican who said she switched parties in 2020, amid GOP-led “attacks on marginalized communities” and the proliferation of former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud claims.

“I realized I needed to switch parties, not because I thought it’d be easier to run as a Democrat in Idaho, because that would be ridiculous, but because I felt like the Republican Party at that time had left me,” Pickens Manweiler said.

A longtime trial lawyer and certified mediator, Pickens Manweiler said she would help ground legislation so doctors and librarians don’t face “impossible situations.”

In 2020, the Idaho Legislature enacted a near-total ban on abortion – which was triggered in August – by making the procedure a felony for providers. Another bill, which passed in the House but died in the Senate, would have made it a crime for librarians to distribute material “harmful” to minors.

Pickens Manweiler said she has two priorities. One is to “restore reproductive freedom in Idaho,” whether through supporting a citizen ballot initiative or working with lawmakers to change the law. The other is to publicize information on “culture war legislation,” such as a bill’s genesis, purpose and ramifications.

“We can’t have the far-right attacking our community leaders, and our librarians, and our teachers, and our doctors because of bills … that are based in junk science and fantasy,” she said.

Pickens Manweiler has raised more than $265,000 from donors and spent about $77,000 on ads, according to campaign finance reports. She earned endorsements from two former Democratic Idaho congressmen, a former Republican Idaho attorney general, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates and Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, according to her website.

She ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Since, she’s had her sights on Bedke.

An ad, released this week, attacks Bedke for supporting Idaho’s abortion restrictions, including in cases when the pregnancy creates serious health risks. Bedke, along with other GOP leaders, joined the state attorney general’s office in fighting a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit challenging the law.

“Scott Bedke is fighting to deny emergency abortion care,” Pickens Manweiler says in the ad.

Bedke told the Statesman that he opposes “elective abortion,” though he supports exceptions for life-threatening pregnancies and pregnancies that resulted from incest or rape. The Idaho law makes it a felony for physicians to provide an abortion, unless the physician can prove in court that those exceptions applied.

Bedke said opponents of the law are “twisting” it to say that it prohibits miscarriage management, gynecological care and fertility treatments.

“I don’t believe that that’s in there,” he said.

The Idaho law restricts abortions without clear exemptions in cases of miscarriages.

Women experiencing a miscarriage often are treated with an abortion, “even when fetal cardiac activity may still be detectable,” wrote a group of physicians in a brief for the Justice Department’s lawsuit. The Idaho law would criminalize those treatments, the doctors wrote.

Pickens Manweiler expects abortion to be a major motivation for voters in the lieutenant governor’s race. She pointed to data showing that young Idaho women are registering to vote at higher rates after the U.S. Supreme Court in June reversed longstanding federal protections for abort ion.

“All of those people who’ve just registered on this one issue are going to vote for me,” she said.

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