Candidates for Idaho House District 26 Seat B faced off in the Idaho Mountain Express’ Pizza and Politics forum Wednesday night at the Wood River High School in Hailey, coming down on different sides of several issues.
Incumbent Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, used the spotlight to focus on the need for the state to make education among its highest priorities, while challenger Don Hudson, a Republican from Shoshone, argued for limited spending and limited government influence.
Pence is hoping to win her sixth term as a representative for Blaine, Camas, Lincoln and Gooding counties come Nov. 4. A retired teacher and athletic coach, Pence is the minority caucus chair for the Democrats in the Statehouse.
Hudson is a retired mechanical engineer who has said he wants to fight against federal government overreach. He’s served as a Lincoln County Planning and Zoning commissioner, but this is his first time running for state office.
On the subject of wolf management, Hudson said managing game and predator populations is a time-tested tool for states.
“It’s especially important to control the wolf population because of their position on the food chain,” he said.
He said the current Idaho wolf population is dominated by transplanted Canadian wolves.
Pence said she voted against the formation of a state Wolf Depredation Board because she thinks management should be within the Idaho Fish and Game Department and not as a statewide bureaucratic matter. She went on to say that the $400,000 allocated to wolf control by the board should be used for both lethal and non-lethal measures.
Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Pence said this is unacceptable and needs to be increased.
“I don’t see how anyone can raise a family on a wage like that,” she said. “We need to make sure that we put extra money in pockets [to promote] spending.”
Hudson countered that the minimum wage isn’t meant to be a living wage.
“Minimum wage was meant for high school students to have a job and prepare for college,” he said.
He said every time the minimum wage is raised, prices go up and hurt people on fixed incomes.
Idaho’s poor national educational ranking was brought up, and Pence said the answer was more education funding. She said the Legislature needs to bounce back from recessionary education funding cuts.
“We’ve had extra money available and the priority was everything but education,” she said.
Hudson argued that rankings are just a number and Idaho already spends more than half of its budget on education.
“If anyone is laboring under the idea that somehow education in Idaho is underfunded, look around you,” he said.
One audience member asked about House Bill 548’s passage and candidates’ opinions on tax reduction. The bill provides for reductions in income taxes.
Hudson said he favors tax reduction.
“The whole idea of this bill was to return income to families that needed it to stimulate our economy and to provide income to families where needed,” he said.
Pence said she would support continued tax reduction only if education funding was bettered first.
“We need to support our schools,” she said. “If our school system is not a good school system and isn’t producing the kind of people that we need, businesses don’t move here.”
Pence said only 38 percent of 5- and 6-year-olds statewide are actually academically prepared for school. She said she believes Gooding’s public school teachers are effective educators, despite these challenges.
Hudson countered, “I’m glad they’re doing well—that means we don’t need any additional funds for education.”
He said legislators don’t need to allocate more money toward education, but teachers should pay more attention to gaps in student progress.
Hudson asked Pence how she reconciles her agrarian interests with increasing concerns from environmental sectors. Pence said she pays attention to fertilizer and pesticide use. She added that she considers concerns of homeowners living next to growing and farming operations while still giving agriculture interests the right to grow and farm efficiently.
Pence asked Hudson about his previously stated belief that Idaho should continue to pursue a takeover of its federal lands and increase access for a variety of interests.
“It has to do with population development,” Hudson said, referencing demographic growth east of the Mississippi. “I do not advocate selling off national parks—that’s an overstatement. What I do suggest is that we should welcome more development and an increase in rural population and that may mean making some lands available for that expansion.”