Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Heated senate race draws to a close

Attorney, mayor and fill-in senator vie for District 25 seat


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Top, Jim Donoval Middle, Randy Patterson Bottom Michelle Stennett

2010/10-10-08senate.jpgWhat was perhaps the election season's most heated local contest will come to an end on Tuesday, Nov. 2, as voters decide which of three contenders they want representing District 25 in the state Senate.

The race for the District 25 Senate seat had not been contested since 2002, when Sen. Clint Stennett, a Democrat of Ketchum, defeated Republican Tom Faulkner, garnering 64 percent of the vote.

In the running is Democratic candidate Michelle Stennett, who was appointed on Oct. 26 to fill the place left by her recently deceased husband. That temporary appointment will last only until Dec. 2, when the newly elected candidate will be sworn in.

Stennett filled in for her husband during the 2010 legislative session, and announced she would be running for his seat when he announced his retirement last March.

On the other side of the ticket is Republican candidate Jim Donoval of Sun Valley, an attorney and CPA who has been outspoken regarding city consolidation, the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency and the proposed replacement airport.

Donoval is a relatively recent transplant to the district, having moved here in 2008 from Chicago, where he was chief legal officer for the Illinois Liquor Commission and president of a nonprofit organization that aided people with developmental disabilities.

This race was the first and only race to go negative this season, with Donoval demanding Constitution Party candidate Randy Patterson drop out of the race as early as mid-August and attempting to deny him participation in several proposed candidate forums.

Patterson, the mayor of Carey and a former city councilman, has a more conservative stance than Donoval. Donoval contended it was impossible for Patterson to win and that he could draw enough right-leaning voters to split the ticket and hand Stennett an election victory.

"He'd have to get 7,000 votes to win the district," Donoval said in September. "Being a legal candidate and being a practical contender for the seat are two different things."

The campaign rhetoric continued to heat up from there, as Donoval moved from attempting to set up debates to demanding that Stennett return almost $21,000 of campaign funding received from political action committees.

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While Stennett said she took money from political action committees, she said none of the donations were solicited and were instead due to the honest working relationships she had developed with lobbyists during the 2010 legislative session.

However, Donoval acknowledged that he had approached several political action committees and received no donations. Since then, he has received about $2,250 in out-of-district contributions.

Much of the rhetoric recently has focused on the role a state senator would play in more city-based issues.

Patterson has said that local government governs best, hence his opinion that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare should not reopen in Blaine County and that the Federal Reserve, the Department of Education and the Department of Energy should all be eliminated.

Donoval has been outspoken regarding the potential Blaine County replacement airport, which is still in the planning stage. He said his perspective as state senator would enable him to serve on the Blaine County Airport Advisory Committee when the Legislature is not in session and help speed the process along.

He's also openly admonished current Democratic legislators for not addressing what he believes are bad economic decisions made by the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency.

Stennett's position on the role of state senators falls somewhere between her competitors. She said she sees state senators as facilitators who can help local jurisdictions but not intrude.

"I'd be happy to assist in any capacity," she said. "But as senator, you let the county folks and the local folks do their work."

Idaho's unemployment rate now hovers around 9 percent, and much of the discussion at a candidates forum earlier this month centered on job creation and economic stimulation.

Patterson asked his opponents simply, "How do you create a job?" Patterson himself stated that cutting business regulations and taxes would help draw companies to Idaho and make Idaho more business-friendly.

While Stennett said she was for certain incentives for businesses, she said incentives should rely on a company's proving it can create jobs, not just set up shop.

Donoval took a slightly different approach, saying that once he solved the airport issue, he would concentrate on bringing a university extension with a program in resort management to the valley, which would lead to more jobs.

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

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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