A look at the official positions of the five District 25 candidates for the Legislature reveals a number of similarities. All agree on the need to help small businesses and boost Idaho's economy, generally oppose strict handgun regulations and recognize the importance of education.
But as their state party platforms rarely align as neatly, the candidates all must walk the fine line between totally supporting the platforms and expressing their willingness to work with those across the aisle.
Experience vs. party platform
This balancing act might be most difficult for Randy Patterson, mayor of Carey and the Constitution Party candidate for the state Senate seat being vacated by Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum. The party's platform is almost radically conservative, calling for the elimination of the Department of Education, the Department of Energy and the Federal Reserve Bank, as well as U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations.
Despite the party's polarized position, Patterson said he agrees with "most" of it, basing much of his stance on the importance of local, rather than federal, government. For example, he said, states should be in charge of educational standards rather than relying on federal guidelines.
"I remember when the Department of Education was put in place," Patterson said. "We did just fine before we had it."
Patterson said he also remembers the creation of the Department of Energy in 1977, and that he would support its elimination for similar reasons. As for the Federal Reserve, Patterson said he feels Congress should directly control the coining of currency rather than delegating it to the Federal Reserve Bank, which he called a private agency.
"There's nothing federal about the Federal Reserve," he said.
But while Patterson is a staunch Constitution Party man on most issues, personal experience has given him a degree of flexibility on the issue of abortion that is not reflected in the party's stance.
"It's not a huge disagreement," he said.
While the party's firm stance on abortion is that it shouldn't exist, even in cases of incest or rape, Patterson said he would support abortion in the cases of rape and incest or when the life of the mother is threatened.
"I had a daughter who had a really hard time with her last pregnancy, and it was touch-and-go whether she'd be able to carry it," he said.
Though his daughter did give birth to a little girl, who is now 3, Patterson said this experience influenced his view on reproductive issues.
The Republican Party platform is not as conservative as the Constitution Party's, but state Senate Republican candidate Jim Donoval still takes a more moderate view than his fellow party members. Like the Constitution Party, Idaho Republicans support the elimination of the Federal Reserve and the conversion of currency to ensure it is backed by gold and silver.
"This would make it almost impossible for the government to regulate the economy," Donoval said, and while this may be the basis for the party's position, Donoval said he couldn't support it.
He also rejects his party's call for an appeal of the 17th amendment, which gave the power of electing U.S. senators to the people rather than to state legislatures.
"We have to trust the voters to better decide those things than a bunch of politicians in back rooms," he said.
Alex Sutter, the District 25 Republican candidate for state representative, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. However, in an issues poll conducted by Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan voter information site, Sutter expressed support for the elimination of the individual income tax, while the state party platform calls for a balance of income, sales and property taxes.
The 2010 Idaho Republican platform, approved in June, now asks all candidates to disclose whether they agree with its tenets. While Sutter was not available for comment, Donoval said he isn't bothered by the requirement, so long as it continues to include the provision for candidates to explain which issues they disagree with.
'Issue by issue': The voting process
The Democratic candidates, incumbents Rep. Donna Pence and acting Sen. Michelle Stennett, said they don't have major differences with their party's platform. However, they each said they would vote—and have voted—against their party, depending on the issue.
"I've gone off," Pence said of her voting record.
"A lot of times on some gun issues, I have voted for some that others haven't," she said, adding that she has a concealed weapons permit. "I understand guns and I have less fear of them than maybe some of the others."
Stennett said that though she is a Democratic candidate, she hasn't always voted with the Democrats in Boise.
"I vote issue by issue," she said. "You have to do your homework."
A blue candidate in a predominantly red state, Stennett said it is important for Democrats to be willing to go "across the aisle" and work with Republicans to get anything accomplished.
Fortunately, she has company. While Donoval said he would support his party "to a great extent," he also said he would keep his mind open to expert opinions.
"I wouldn't just blindly vote based on what the Idaho Republican platform said, but I would support the platform unless I could be shown by experts that my opinion doesn't make sense," Donoval said.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com