District 1 Senate, House candidates respond to questions at primary forum

By Zach Hagadone and Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

Candidates for District 1 Idaho Senate and District 1 Idaho House Seats A and B gathered at the Sandpoint High School auditorium April 30, providing voters with their perspectives on the issues ahead of the Tuesday, May 21 primary election.

Office seekers in contested races came together for two hours and spoke to more than 200 attendees. 88.5 FM KRFY Panhandle Community Radio, sandpointonline.com, the Bonner County Daily Bee, Selkirk Association of Realtors and the Sandpoint Reader sponsored the event, with Reader Publisher Ben Olson serving as moderator and presenting questions submitted by the audience.

Candidates each had the opportunity to deliver opening and closing statements, as well as offer rebuttals.

Find the Bonner County candidates’ forum recap, as well as questionnaires for all state and local candidates, at sandpointreader.com. To listen to recordings of both the Bonner County and Legislative District 1 forums, go to krfy.org/podcast.

Idaho Legislative District 1 Senate, House 1A and House 1B candidates speak to voters at the Sandpoint High School auditorium Tuesday, April 30. Photo by Ben Olson.

District 1 Senate 

Leading off the most hotly contested and most-watched primary campaign in the state, incumbent Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, talked about cutting spending, noting that lawmakers are responsible for $14 billion in taxpayer money, and about $2 billion in federal debt.

Former-Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, opened his remarks by underscoring his past experience over two terms, “and I really key in on the word ‘represent,’ and I say that because I’m asking to represent all of the folks in the district whether I agree with them or not.”

Referring to a video circulated by the Herndon campaign showing Woodward speaking to a group of Bonner County Democrats, Woodward said he’d “dared” to make that appearance because, “I really believe that all of you — all Idahoans … deserve to be represented and that’s what I’m asking to do.”

Asked to address property tax relief for full-time residents, Woodward said he supported “restructuring” the law to average the value of taxpayers’ homes over time in order to better weather larger economic swings. Beyond that, Woodward said that Idaho’s current property tax system could be improved by shifting the entirety of school funding from property taxes to the state’s general fund budget — as it had been prior to 2006. 

“We can take the schools off the property tax system … and have that system work better for us,” he said.

Herndon said property tax reduction was “probably our No. 1 priority in 2023,” made all the more important because of rising home values that had many residents concerned about large tax increases.

He pointed to House Bill 292, which lawmakers defended from a veto by Gov. Brad Little in 2023, resulting in 15-18% in tax relief. 

“Local government costs $2 billion a year, state government costs $14 billion a year. I think property tax, though it’s been the longest tax that we have since the territorial days, somehow it’s fundamentally unfair,” he said.

Asked whether the issue of how (or whether) to manage library materials deemed “harmful to minors” or “obscene” deserves the amount of attention it’s gotten, Herndon said he supported H.B. 710 because it “puts in place a process whereby we make sure that those materials are not provided to children at taxpayer-funded libraries, which is totally appropriate.”

Woodward said that he doesn’t believe in censorship, does believe in local control “and of course I don’t believe that our children should be exposed to or given inappropriate material, especially from a public library.”

He added that he would not have supported the bill had he been in the Senate, and described it as “taking away control from the local community” and an example of “hypocrisy” by lawmakers who complain about federal overreach then “turn around and write mandates and try to control something at the local level that does not need to be controlled by the state government.” 

Candidates were asked what action, if any, should be taken to address the effects of Idaho’s abortion ban on the ability of the state to attract and retain health care professionals.

Herndon said physician shortages stem from demographic changes that are affecting a number of other industries. Woodward countered that, “The facts are doctors are leaving and our women are suffering because of the existing Idaho law.”

“We need to go back and revisit what we put in place,” he added, noting that Herndon wanted to remove all exceptions to the abortion ban, including in cases of rape or incest.

Herndon rebutted, saying, “I don’t believe that we should put to death children for the crimes of their father … I think our abortion ban is sound and I think my position is principled, based on the Constitution of the United States and scripture.”

On the topic of revitalizing schools, health care and infrastructure to attract high-tech and manufacturing investment, Herndon said he voted for bills to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for roads and bridges, as well as channel $1 billion into public schools. Woodward took aim at Herndon’s vote against outcomes-based funding for schools, but Herndon rebutted that he opposed that measure because it looked at workplace readiness, rather than academic proficiency. 

“We’ll tie money to students actually being able to read and do computational math,” he said.

Among the final questions was how candidates feel they can be effective in a Republican Party environment where vigorous challenges come from the right wing. To that, Woodward responded, “I think I’m doing it.”

Herndon questioned whether such terms as “right-wing” are even relevant, noting that “right-wing” used to mean “a Kennedy Democrat.” Meanwhile, he pointed to bills on which he collaborated with Democrats, including legislation related to the Camp Bay Road vacation and pushing back against the Bayer Corporation.

Both candidates agreed that their main differences came down to voting records, which Herndon said displayed “a fundamental difference in philosophy of what the state’s role is.” Woodward said the vote in their race would be between “being a part of the community or tearing apart the community.”

Woodward ended his remarks by expressing faith in the state’s institutions and valuing every constituent in the community, while Herndon emphasized his role as a “watchdog” in Boise.

House Seat 1A

The Republican race for House Seat 1A saw a three-way faceoff between incumbent Mark Sauter, Spencer Hutchings and Jane Sauter, who has no relation to the incumbent.

As lifelong Republicans, the three candidates agreed on a number of issues posed by the audience, including calls to lower property taxes. While Mark Sauter listed his previous legislation — such as House Bill 292 and additional measures to reduce school bonds — and Jane Sauter encouraged attendees and lawmakers to look at available exemptions, Hutchings argued for the removal of property taxes altogether.

“With an increase in sales tax, we could all stop paying property taxes. We could also get rid of property taxes by getting the federal lands back from the feds,” he said, advocating for logging and mineral leases repurposed federal lands.

When asked about the ongoing controversy over public libraries, the candidates agreed that children should not be exposed to obscene materials, with Mark Sauter adding that he is “standing with local control” and believes that communities are already doing a good job of regulating material available to minors. The conversation then transitioned to the unintended consequences of Idaho’s near-total abortion ban, including the loss of OBGYNs.

“It’s a tough issue. I don’t believe that abortion should be used for birth control in any way,” said Mark Sauter, giving an opinion shared by all three candidates.

“I think we as the Legislature owe it to our health care professionals to give them some good guidance and put some curbs, so they can be comfortable in practicing,” he added.

Hutchings advocated for changing the cultural mindset around abortion because “we’ve been propagandized to for going on 50 years … that it’s OK to have an abortion because you had casual sex or because you had unprotected sex.”

Jane Sauter echoed sentiments expressed by Herndon, stating, “I don’t think there should be exceptions for rape and incest. A baby is made in the image of God, and that hasn’t changed.” She later admitted her confusion as to why OBGYNs were leaving the state.

Audience members asked candidates how they intend to represent the entire community, rather than “an increasingly more radicalized right wing of the party.” Hutchings and Jane Sauter both stated that they did not understand what “radicalized right wing” meant, with Hutchings adding that he was probably considered a radical, right-wing candidate for his strong anti-communist views.

Jane Sauter reaffirmed her dedication to conservative values, echoing her opening statement, in which she said, “Those of you who want to be represented by a Republican, I want to represent you because I know that you are liberty-loving, constitutional conservatives.”

Incumbent Mark Sauter promised to defer to his constituents regardless of the impact on his career and supported this claim by reminding attendees that he was already censured by the Bonner County Republican Central Committee in April 2023.

“You just have to represent your district. Ultimately, you let the rest fall off the back of your shoulders,” said Mark Sauter, indicating that he had learned this philosophy during his time as a fire chief.

House Seat 1B

The race for House Seat 1B featured a debate between Democrat Kathryn Larson — whose opponent, Bob Vickaryous, did not attend — and Republicans Charles “Chuck” Lowman and Cornel Rasor. Like their 1A counterparts, the three candidates were unanimously in favor of lower property taxes. 

“The homeowner’s exemption is limited to $125,000 and that hasn’t gone up, and so I think that should go to 50% of the value of the home and be more reflective of the increase in our property values that are going up,” said Larson, adding that some sales tax exemptions “haven’t been reviewed in 40 years,” leading to lost revenue.

Lowman argued that the state should freeze property taxes for Idaho residents “over the age of 65 and living on fixed income,” so that their taxes stay the same throughout their retirement. In response to Hutchings’ point, Lowman further argued against claiming federal lands to offset the cost.

“The United States Constitution makes it very clear that it has rights to property and property claims in the United States and it has management authority over those properties,” Lowman said.

Rasor, who’s platform includes claiming federal lands, argued that Lowman was referencing Article 21 Section 4 of the Idaho Constitution and that, “The second part of that says that they shall disclaim all use of all lands until such time as the federal government — now I’m paraphrasing now because I haven’t got it memorized — extinguishes title.”

Rasor also claimed that the federal government “deeded those lands back, faithfully, all the way up to Colorado,” citing the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, which created the nation’s first organized incorporated territory in modern-day Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio; the 1789 Equal Footing Doctrine, which declared that all new states are equal to the original 13; and Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives states the right to cede land to the federal government.

Lowman, a former research biologist, rebutted Rasor in his closing remarks, arguing that any attempts to reclassify federal lands as state lands, would result in billionaires and corporations buying the land, leaving nothing for residents.

“Iowa has the lowest amount of federal and state lands. They have higher property taxes and a higher effective tax rate than we do,” said Lowman. “They’ve lost 99.9% of their prairie, 98% of their wetlands, 50% of their woodlands and they’ve lost over 100 different species of wildlife that will never come back to Iowa.”

On the subject of limitations on materials in Idaho libraries, Rasor said, “I grew up in a time when it was common sense not to put Playboy and Hustler in the library children’s section. That common sense needs to come back.”

According to Larson, Bonner County has had “one book that’s been contested in the last 10 years.” She further used past false claims that East Bonner County Library Board Member Susan Shea wanted to install “stripper poles” in the Sandpoint library to demonstrate the “vitriol” in a “culture war issue that has been brought to us from out of state.”

Lowman suggested a rating system for books similar to the one used by the Motion Picture Association and expressed concern over H.B. 710, which allows parents to sue libraries over materials they deem harmful.

“As a conservative Christian, I know that the Bible is offensive to some folks, and what day is the Bible going to be banned from libraries not because of a law that’s passed, but because an insurance company says it’s not wise to have it here?” asked Lowman.

Segueing to the topic of abortion, Larson drew from her personal experience losing a child, stating that the doctors “would have had to let me go septic before they could deal with the problem” had she miscarried under the current law. 

Though Lowman and Rasor agreed with the belief that life begins at conception, Lowman drew on his background as a missionary, pastor and army chaplain in Iraq and Afghanistan to argue for leeway in Idaho’s near-total ban.

“I do also recognize that there are some times that things just go wrong, and we do need to make sure that doctors’ licenses are protected so that they can do morally hard decisions,” he said, adding that he had counseled many people through difficult decisions while in the army.

Finally, in response to the audience’s question regarding the Republican Party’s “radicalized right wing,” Larson said, “The Republican Party has had a supermajority for more than 30 years. There have been no left-wing people who have had any power in this state, so there is nothing you can blame on us for the last 30 years.” 

She went on to advocate for the Idaho Open Primaries Initiative.

Adding to Hutchings’ point that communism is on the far-left of the political spectrum, Lowman reminded the audience that totalitarianism is on the far-right, and recommended reading the works of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Christian writer Corrie Ten Boom, who helped Jewish people escape the Holocaust.

“You want to see the genesis of what happened in Germany? It’s when the left and the right got total control of things and it went haywire, and good people in the middle didn’t get involved,” said Lowman, reiterating his loyalty to his “moral conscience,” rather than a particular political party.

What to know about voting in the May 21 primary

Early voting in the 2024 primary will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday, May 17 at the Bonner County Elections Office (1500 Hwy. 2, Ste. 124, in Sandpoint). The deadline to request a mail-in absentee ballot is Friday, May 10 at 5 p.m. Requests for mail-in absentee ballots can be dropped off, mailed, emailed or faxed to the Elections Office.

A logic and accuracy test will take place Thursday, May 16 at 9 a.m. in the Elections Office, to which the public is invited. 

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21 for in-person voting. Voters may register at the polls on Election Day.

Contact the Bonner County Elections Office at bonnercountyid.gov/elections.

To register in advance or for all other election-related questions and information (including to identify your polling precinct and location) go to voteidaho.gov.

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