Idaho's candidates for public office claim that like the children of Lake Wobegon, they're all good looking and above average.
After watching, listening, reading and reviewing everything from forums, interviews, websites and pamphlets, we found that definitions of "above average" vary mightily. Here are the newspaper's picks for local, state and federal offices in next Tuesday's election.
For Bellevue City Council, three seats—Maria Anta, Sara Burns and Randy Leighton: All six candidates agree that they want to do good for Bellevue, keep its budget in line, water in the river and its infrastructure in good repair. They want more jobs in town. The single question that divides them is whether Bellevue should pursue a big box store. Only Anta and Leighton are clearly against big boxes and understand that they could destroy existing businesses and jobs. This issue should be a deciding factor in this election. Burns is on the fence, but as a recently appointed council member offers budget knowledge and new energy.
For Blaine County Commissioner—Angenie McCleary (D): Unlike her sole opponent, McCleary likes local ordinances that have kept hillsides in the area's scenic corridor clear of development while concentrating it in cities. She's been smart and resourceful in getting the county to seek grants for transportation and energy initiatives. In two years as an appointee to the seat, she's demonstrated she can make tough decisions and work with others. She's served well and deserves support.
For District 25 state representative, Seat B—Donna Pence, D-Gooding: This three-term incumbent's record favors education over ill-advised tax cuts and public subsidies for the well-heeled. She voted to prevent this poor state from spending money it can ill afford defending unconstitutional bills and filing quixotic lawsuits to try to overturn federal law. As a retired teacher with a master's degree, small-business owner and mother, Pence does her homework on bills and reflects her district's practical sensibilities. Strong on education, business, agriculture and individual rights, she should get another term.
For District 25 state senator—Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum: Guided by her late husband, state Sen. Clint Stennett, she served a year as his substitute. With a degree in international studies and as a 25-year resident, she understands the district's reliance on tourism and agriculture, and its desire for great schools. She emphasizes collaboration over confrontation with other local and state officials. These qualities will serve the district far better than her opponent's oft-stated desire to use the position to insert himself into mainly county and city issues.
For state superintendent of public instruction—Tom Luna (R): This incumbent exceeded expectations. He adopted Democrats' calls for taxing Internet sales and increasing the number of auditors on the state Tax Commission to collar tax deadbeats to increase revenue for schools. He put members of his own party on the hot seat when he demanded that the Land Board fork over reserve funds to rescue public schools in a bad economy. His better-educated challenger, a former Boise school district superintendent, offers a brainier "boots on the ground" leadership, but there's no arguing with Luna's funding results from a recalcitrant and stingy Legislature that would have been a lot stingier without his efforts.
For state controller—Bruce Robinette (D): This challenger would shake up the office and provide better analysis of expenditures to the Legislature. Unlike the incumbent, who refused to debate him, he would have supported the $22 million school funds appropriation by the Land Board that kept schools in business another year. The incumbent called for more study with an eye to the education of future kids instead of those endangered by drastic cuts now. As a management accountant for Hewlett Packard, Robinette has the credentials for the job plus the best policy inclinations.
For secretary of state—Ben Ysursa (R): This moderate incumbent's done a good job both in the office and as a member of the state Land Board. He opposed his own party's move to close primaries. He voted in favor of allocating more money from Land Board coffers to patch the holes in state school funding that resulted from the cave-in of the national economy. However, unlike his opponent, he says it was a one-time thing. No significant change would result from turnover in this office.
For lieutenant governor—Brad Little (R): Little was appointed to the office two years ago, and there are no challengers who can match his experience as an Idaho resident and former legislator. End of story.
For governor—Keith Allred (D): The state needs a new governor and shouldn't miss this chance to change course from economic and tax policies that have left Idaho's education system and infrastructure in tatters and government services on life support. Internet businesses have escaped taxation, tax loopholes have gone unexamined and tax collectors who would have returned more than their salaries to the state went unhired while school programs, teacher pay and school facilities were starved. With better leadership from the governor's office, education wouldn't have been hit as hard. The incumbent dances to the tune of a hidebound and sclerotic Legislature. Time to give a Harvard-trained Idaho cowboy a chance so Idaho kids will have one, too.
For U.S. representative District 2—Mike Simpson (R): Given the lack of name recognition of his opponents and the resulting lack of real challenge on major issues, Simpson is a shoo-in for re-election. Nonetheless, he shouldn't rest comfortably on trite party platforms that have no substance. Idaho needs a thinking representative on all issues. While his longtime efforts in trying to create a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness area are appreciated in this part of the state, voters have a right to expect strong and creative thinking on other issues, which Simpson hasn't produced.
For U.S. senator—Mike Crapo (R): There's no choice in this race because it's another in which challengers haven't made a dent. Crapo is a by-the-book party stalwart more concerned about finding ways to reduce the deficit than in a structural overhaul of the system that created it. His primary achievement for Idaho was passage of the Owyhee Initiative. The collaborative initiative protects ranching and economic interests while creating 517,000 acres of wilderness, releasing 199,000 acres from wilderness study to multiple use and protects 316 miles of streams with the Wild and Scenic River designation.
Constitutional amendments—"yes" on all: These would equalize the ability of universities to charge tuition and fees by allowing the University of Idaho to do what other state universities already do. The other amendments would allow public hospitals and cities that own electric utilities or airports to use revenue bonds paid for by revenues or fees, not paid for or backed by property taxes, to finance improvements without being forced to ask for voter approval. The amendments would give these entities the flexibility they need to operate effectively.