Wednesday, May 19, 2010

District 25 Dems face off Tuesday

3 Democrats, 2 others seek seat once held by Clint Stennett

Express Staff Writer

Next Tuesday, Blaine County voters will go to the polls to help select the Democratic candidate for District 25's state Senate seat.

Voters will have a loaded field to choose from. Facing off in the May 25 Democratic primary race are Robert Blakeley of Hailey, David Maestas of Hagerman and Ketchum's Michelle Stennett, who stood in for her husband, Sen. Clint Stennett, during the 2010 Legislature.

The winner of Tuesday's primary race will face Republican Jim Donoval of Sun Valley and Carey's Randall Patterson, a member of the Constitution Party, in November's general election.

District 25 covers Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties.

Here's a rundown of each of the candidates and their backgrounds:

Michelle Stennett

Michelle Stennett decided run for the District 25 Senate seat long held by her husband, Democrat Clint Stennett, after a visit to their doctor in California in early March showed the presence of a small tumor. He has been fighting brain cancer—with radiation and other treatments—for the past two and a half years.

In March, Clint Stennett announced his retirement from the Senate so he could continue his recovery from treatment for brain cancer.

During an interview in March, Michelle Stennett said she is looking to leverage the experience she's gained since the legislative session began in January, as well as the continued mentoring from her husband.

"I didn't want to abandon the seat when I knew I could do a good job," she said. "I have a good working relationship with other members of the Senate and as part of the minority can rattle cages and show the other side of issues."

David Maestas

Hagerman resident David Maestas is an ardent advocate of regulating the state's politically powerful dairy industry. As a former planning and zoning commissioner in Gooding County—which has its share of dairy operations—it's an issue he knows well. It's also the primary issue he's pinning his candidacy on.

According to information provided by Maestas, the county has permitted the dairy industry for more than 275,000 animal units (equivalent to 1,000 pounds each) on 115,000 acres countywide.

"The environmental impact of this saturation is absolutely devastating," he said.

In recent years, Gooding County has updated and streamlined its regulations for permitting future expansions of the dairy industry, Maestas said. He said continued attention is needed at the state level to make sure the dairy industry regulations remain in place.

"Dairy industry lobbyists and consultants have stated they are ready to confront Gooding County's new ordinances at the state legislative level in the form of new statutes," he said. "Someone needs to be there to monitor every piece of legislation and every cause that seeks to deny this protection."

Maestas said the dairy issue should matter to Blaine County voters, despite its distance from the area. He said what occurs in Gooding County matters in Blaine County, which is heavily dependent on the tourist trade.

"It's the gateway to your district," he said.

Maestas has also served on the Hagerman Planning and Zoning Commission and was chair of the Greater Twin Falls Area Transportation Committee, president of the Twin Falls Optimist Club and vice president of the Twin Falls Chamber board of directors.

Robert Blakeley

Hailey resident Robert Blakeley is already a familiar face among some voters because of his involvement with the Liberty Lobby, which began in 2004 to advocate locally for pro-marijuana laws. In 2007, the organization put four marijuana legalization or reform initiatives on the ballot in Hailey. Three were approved by voters, including legalizing the medical use of marijuana, making enforcement of marijuana laws the city's lowest police priority and legalizing industrial hemp use.

During an interview in April, Blakeley said that if he makes it to the Capitol, in addition to his continuing effort to legalize hemp for industrial uses, he will also be a labor advocate and stump for better representation of workers around the state. He said he is also a proponent of establishing term limits for elected officials.

The district is a traditional stronghold for Democrats, and Blakeley sees no reason why it won't be this time around. Still, he said, voters deserve more than one candidate in the Democratic primary.

"It's important to give people a choice," he said.

Donoval and Patterson

Donoval and Patterson are both running unopposed in their respective primary races.

Donoval moved to the valley from Illinois in 2008 when his wife, Sharon Hammer, was hired as the Sun Valley city administrator.

He got involved in local politics in early 2009 when he came out against the proposal to merge Sun Valley and Ketchum. His political experience includes running unsuccessfully for the Illinois House of Representatives in 1992 and serving on the Illinois Republican Platform Committee. He's also worked on local, state and federal political campaigns.

Patterson took over as mayor of Carey last year. The owner and operator of a marketing business, he was on the Carey City Council for nearly a decade, serving from 1998 through 2006. He ran unopposed for mayor last November after three-term Mayor Rick Baird stepped down from the post.

Jason Kauffman:

Primary election

The polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for Idaho's primary election on Tuesday, May 25. Voting will take place at regular polling places. If you're unsure where to vote, log on to Absentee voting is available through May 20 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Blaine County Courthouse and during the same hours on May 24.

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