Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Express election endorsements

City Races
   Bellevue City Council, three seats: Craig Wolfrom, James Stireman and Robert Leahy. These contested seats are the most important local races this year. Up for grabs is whether the mayor and six-member council will continue a sprint to annex a proposed 90-acre commercial zone outside the city, to obliterate legal walls preventing strip malls on the highway and destruction of small local businesses, and to muzzle the public.
    All of these challengers are employed locally. Wolfrom is a professional photographer, Leahy owns a hardwood flooring business. Stireman works in sales at a local lumber company. All are committed Bellevue residents who want a slower, more thoughtful and transparent process that includes the public. Giving incumbents pink slips won’t guarantee an end to the “no rules for private property” madness that’s taken over, but it would be a good start.
County Races
    Blaine County Commissioner, District 1, Larry Schoen (D): This three-term incumbent has plenty of critics and a strong challenge from Carey Mayor Randy Patterson, but their arguments for replacing the man who knows his county, his constituents and their issues inside and out are unpersuasive. Schoen has expanded the scope of issues a county commissioner normally deals with well beyond those addressed by less energetic occupants of the office. He’s dealt with everything from zoning disputes to wolves to water issues. If overreaching is a sin, he’s guilty, but under-reaching would be far worse.
    Blaine County Treasurer: Vicki Heuett (R). This six-term incumbent, who has worked in the county for 40 years, is still best as the county’s chief tax collector and investor despite the challenge from young John David Davidson (D), who questioned her performance in investing the county’s money and deflected her dismissal of his college degree in Spanish literature with a lively promise—in Spanish—to help all county taxpayers get better information about how and where their money gets parked. The latter is a good idea, but auditors backed up Heuett’s defense that county investment losses were temporary unrealized “paper losses” caused by a one-day spike in interest rates on the day the audit was performed.

State Races
    Idaho State Representative District 26, Seat B, Donna Pence (D): For 10 years, she has served the district. A former teacher and an active tree farmer, she is a consistent champion for better education funding and programs in a state that ranks 49th in the nation under Republican leadership. Challenger Don Hudson (R), a retired mechanical engineer from Colorado who moved here three years ago, wants to get “government off our backs,” to lower the income tax and to spend no more money on education. Pence wants to leave federal lands alone while Hudson wants Idaho to grab them and sell some. Pence wisely wants wolves managed by the Department of Fish and Game instead of the political Wolf Control Board on which Hudson serves. Pence’s leadership and grasp of the issues recommends her for another term.
    Idaho State Representative, Seat A, Dick Fosbury (D): Election of this challenger over one-term Rep. Steve Miller (R) would help balance the Legislature’s overbearing and dominant right wing. Longtime Blaine County resident and former Olympic champion Fosbury wants better-than-rock-bottom education spending and the highest level of low-wage jobs in the nation. He wants to quit forcing Idahoans to pay higher taxes to pay for medical care for people without health insurance because the state refuses to accept expanded federal Medicaid payments. Miller blames school patrons unwilling to increase property taxes for Idaho’s poor schools, even though the state is obligated under the Constitution to provide a free and uniform education. He wants Idaho to negotiate Medicaid payments. Miller supports the state study on taking over federal lands and wants to look at them like a business, while Fosbury opposes a takeover and questions whether it’s constitutional. Fosbury is the smart, moderate and sensible choice.
    Idaho State Senator District 26, Michelle Stennett (D): This two-term senator has earned the confidence of voters who should welcome her to the office again. She articulates the financial challenges and issues facing Idahoans better than any other candidate out there. When she speaks, it’s clear that she’s studied issues and can back up her positions with facts. Money spent chasing ownership of federal lands is foolish in her view when acute shortages plague education funding in a state where student populations have grown. Opponent Dale Ewersen (R) wants education funding to stay the same, but look for efficiencies. Her quiet strength in talking about her opposition to the ag-gag bill barring people from secretly filming animal abuse in agriculture and her wisdom on water issues distinguishes her in this race.
    Idaho Governor: A.J. Balukoff (D): This successful businessman with 17 years experience on the Boise School Board is the right guy to replace two-term Gov. Butch Otter (R). Otter’s “success” has left the state with bad roads, bad schools, poor wages, less federal money for health care, and nothing but the status quo to look forward to if he is elected again. Granted, some fault lies with the Legislature, but the state needs an executive with an agenda that’s not just budget cuts, tax cuts and penny-pinching—with no end in sight. Balukoff looks to restore schools and the economy, avoid future scandals like Otter’s “gladiator school” private prison and clean out the good ol’ boy deals and short-sighted policies that have picked taxpayers’ pockets. Balukoff has the skill and backing to change that and voters should give him the reins.
    Idaho Lt. Gov, your pick: Incumbent Brad Little (R) is facing off against former legislator Bert Marley (D) for the part-time chore of presiding over the Senate and filling in when the governor is away. Otherwise, duties are assigned by the governor, so a voter’s choice for governor should determine the choice here.
    Idaho Secretary of State, Holli Woodings (D): Cut from evenhanded cloth, this state legislator would continue the much-admired style of leadership brought to this office by its previous occupants who were uniformly praised by people in all parties for their non-partisan application of election laws. In contrast, opponent Lawerence Denney (R), former speaker of the House, is infected with his party’s fear that voter fraud must be stamped out—even though it’s essentially non-existent—and would go so far as to require scans of fingerprints or signatures to prove voter identity at the polls. He would also like to do away with primary elections and leave the choices of candidates to party insiders. Woodings wants to encourage more participation in all elections, not less.
    Idaho State Treasurer, Deborah Silver (D): It’s hot in incumbent Ron Crane’s (R) kitchen. Voters should cool things off by replacing him with this certified public accountant who is well-qualified for the job of overseeing the state’s money. Crane’s office has been buffeted by a series of audits. One in January suggested that an inappropriate transfer of funds had cost state taxpayers more than $10 million and was the result of an override of internal controls. The state could also see another $17.4 million in unrealized losses on the sales of other securities. Crane’s political tin ear has included hiring stretch limos for state officials working in New York City and charging the gas for long commutes from his home to his Boise office on his state credit card. Silver could expertly put this office in good shape again.
    Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction: Jana Jones (D) has shown the steady, quiet, highly educated competence expected of someone who has a long-held doctorate in education, a distinguished career as a teacher and educator, and who worked in the office of Marilyn Howard, arguably the best public official this office has ever seen. In contrast, the dog keeps eating the homework of opponent Sherri Ybarra (R), who said she would receive a doctoral degree in August—but didn’t—published plagiarized material on her website, was never “educator of the year” and was not backed by the majority of the members of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee as she claimed. The office is in desperate need of Jones’ leadership after the money and effort it took for the public to overturn incumbent Tom Luna’s misguided education cuts at the polls.
    Idaho Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden (R): This incumbent has deftly managed to avoid a lot of the right-wing shenanigans of many in his party by sticking to his job as the state’s lawyer-in-chief. He hasn’t overtly used the office in pursuit of partisan gains, but has mostly stuck to the law, even when his party brethren would have had him do otherwise. Opponent Bruce Bistline (D) hasn’t actively campaigned.

Federal Race
    Idaho Congressman, Second District, Richard Stallings (D): Ending the political gridlock that’s strangling the nation will require House cleaning and there’s no better place to start cleaning than here at home. Voters should replace the career eight-term Congressman Mike Simpson (R), who on most issues except the government shutdown has repeatedly voted with a Republican majority that has found it convenient to simply attack President Obama—and little else. He has also failed to get his bill for a White Clouds wilderness area approved by a Republican-controlled House even though he’s supposedly an insider and big hitter. The Idaho National Laboratory continued to shrink during his tenure, hurting the Idaho economy. Stallings previously served four strong terms in Congress before being defeated in a bid for the U.S. Senate.

State Constitutional Amendment
    House Joint Resolution 2: Vote No
This amendment purports to protect the Legislature’s authority to approve or overturn state agency rules. Instead, it would threaten the judicial branch of government’s rightful ability to apply the law and reign in any abuse of power by the Legislature. The Legislature already has ample power to approve or reject agency rules every year. Lawmakers are lawmakers. This ideologically driven measure would make them jurists as well. It’s simply dangerous nonsense.

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