Friday, October 29, 2004

Legislative candidates discuss water

District 25 prospects face off before Nov. 2 election

Express Staff Writer

Water was one of the key issues debated by candidates for a contested District 25 legislative seat during a Wednesday night election forum at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

Incumbent Rep. Tim Ridinger, R-Shoshone, and challenger Donna Pence, D-Gooding, were cordial and profes-sional throughout the exchange, which, along with a separate race for Blaine County Sheriff, drew more than 100 peo-ple.

The Idaho Mountain Express hosted the evening event, called Politics and Pizza. More than 100 local residents packed into the upstairs meeting room at the courthouse. Additional people spilled into the lobby outside the meeting.

Ridinger stressed his experience on the Expanded Natural Resource Interim Committee, a legislative committee charged with finding a fix to water woes in and around the Snake River Plain Aquifer.

One of the first steps that needs to be taken is the establishment of water recharge sites on the Snake River Plain. Also, water will need to be bought from well owners for in-stream flows, he said.

Although her command of the issue appeared more generic, Pence said she would work quickly to get on the interim committee when elected. She also touted more than 10 years following water issues in Idaho?s arid southern agricul-tural areas.

?I?ll make sure I get on that committee,? she said, adding that it would be a mutual effort among legislators and stakeholders to resolve the plain?s over-taxed water resources.

Both candidates agreed that a scientific study--including computer modeling and diagramming of the aquifer and the demands placed on it--was in order.

Water occupied a large share of the time the two candidates had to hash out their differences, and the candidates expressed similar opinions on other issues, including local government control, education and taxes.

Ridigner said the state?s tax system is broken and needs fixing. He pushed for transportation reforms within the region. He said he has been ?unyielding? on education funding.

Pence said her first priority is communication with the people of the district. She said improved water quality in the district is important, particularly in the district?s southern dairy belt.

She said she has a ?fair and effective plan,? a way to be a positive influence.

On education, Ridinger advocated for teacher training. Pence followed by stressing money is needed to make the schools work.

Attempting to pin her opponent down, Pence asked Ridinger about a decision last year to allow larger, heavier trucks on state highways. Ridinger voted for the measure. But Ridinger said trucking is big business in Idaho.

?We need some way to get our goods to market,? he said.

Ridinger stressed that he has been working at the Statehouse for the last 10 years.

?I work live and play in this legislative district,? he said. ?I fell I?ve done a good job and I appreciate your support.?

Pence stressed the investment she has made getting to know people in the legislative district, which includes Blaine, Lincoln, Camas and Gooding counties. She said is and will continue to open new lines of communication with the dis-trict?s residents.

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