Establishing alternative energy sources, managing future growth, funding education, preserving Idaho's natural resources, authorizing more local control—they're all issues central to Idaho's Democratic candidate for governor, Jerry Brady, who made a stop in the Wood River Valley last week.
But with all the challenges facing Idaho's rapidly changing environment, this year's dramatic hike in property taxes has stolen the spotlight, dominating the minds of much of the state's electorate as the November 2006 election approaches.
"It is the hottest issue of this election," Brady said. "It will define people's fate in North Idaho."
Property taxes in Bonner County, in the Idaho panhandle, rose a staggering 60 percent this year, prompting protests and appeals from 2,700 residents. Blaine, Kootenai, Teton and Valley County, home to McCall, also experienced high rises.
Brady's visit to the Wood River Valley, which was instigated by a fund-raising party, coincided with Thursday's town hall meeting in Hailey with Rep. Wendy Jaquet and Sen. Clint Stennet, both Ketchum Democrats, to discuss property tax relief. Property taxes in Blaine County increased 18 percent this year, and 21 percent in 2005.
"This is a consequence of Idaho being discovered," Brady said Friday morning. "And there's no end in sight. We need to find some way to stop this runaway inflation. And the Republicans have chosen the wrong way."
State Republicans and Democrats have devised their own respective plans to provide property tax relief. A special session of the Idaho Legislature has been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 25.
Brady, who's running against U.S. Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, a Republican, said the Republican plan would do little to help those in the most dire need of relief: full-time homeowners. He added that it will benefit special interests, such as investment, commercial and agricultural property owners, all of whom have not been hit with the same rise in property taxes. Resort areas, like Blaine County, may not see any relief at all.
"The only problem is the homeowners," Brady said. "The homeowner has nowhere to hide."
With the state facing heavy growth pressure, Brady believes the future depends largely on the ability of local communities to determine their own destiny, which is difficult since Idaho is not a home-rule state.
"Growth is the biggest challenge facing the state," he said. "We're at a crossroads. If we don't make careful decisions and become a more progressive state, we could lose what's great about Idaho. The state should be giving counties more local options."
A fourth-generation Idahoan, Brady doesn't want to see his state cave to the pressures of out-of-state developers and investors.
"Idaho is not for sale," he said. "We need to protect public lands."
Brady's political roots run deep, and so do his family's ties to the Wood River Valley, which stretch back to the 1920s. His great grandfather became Idaho's ninth governor in 1909 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1913.
His grandfather purchased the Idaho Falls Post Register newspaper 80 years ago, and Brady was the newspaper's publisher for 15 years. In 1998, he began transferring the paper's stock to his employees, who now own about 50 percent of the company.
His father, who was a cowboy on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, first brought Brady to Sun Valley when he was 6 months old.
"I have a long history in this valley," Brady said. "I've been coming here all my life. I was here when Sun Valley (Resort) opened in December 1936."
He's a firm believer in the importance of affordable housing and public transit, and he thinks both need to be boosted in the Wood River Valley.
"You don't have a fully rounded town anymore because people can't afford to live here," Brady said about Ketchum. "I understand where Ketchum and the valley is today."
Brady also believes citizens and elected officials need to continue their fight against coal-fired power plants and step up efforts to develop alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass.
"Anybody who lives in Idaho knows we have plenty of wind," Brady said. "Now we need to harness it."
Brady believes wind power has the potential to actually exceed the state's energy needs.
When Brady announced his candidacy for governor in March 2005, one of his announcement locations was Rupert, home to an anaerobic digester, which converts animal waste into fuel. Brady hails the technology for creating energy while boosting income for dairy farmers and cleaning up the environment.
More than anything, Brady believes the fate of Idaho lies in the hands of its youngest citizens.
"The real reason I jumped into this race is, I'm concerned about the welfare of children," Brady said.
Among other programs, Brady helped raise a $1 million initiative in eastern Idaho to promote childcare and pre-school programs. He also thinks parents need opportunities to improve their lives, and he's a strong supporter of the state's community college system.