Candidates from both of Idaho's congressional districts - 10 in all - met in the auditorium at Eagle High School Saturday night to respond to four common questions and to take questions from the audience. The forum featured Republican and Democratic candidates, as well as an Independent and a Libertarian. Walt Minnick, Democratic incumbent in the 1st District, and Mike Simpson, a Republican who represents the 2nd District, were not in attendance.
State Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, Vaughn Ward, Harley Brown represented Republicans running in the 1st District. Dave Olson, an independent candidates from St. Maries, and Mike Washburn, a Libertarian, is also running in that district. Among 2nd District Republicans were state Rep. Russ Mathews, R-Idaho Falls, Chick Heileson, and Katherine Burton. They were joined by Brian Schad, an independent, and Mike Crawford, a Democrat.
The forum was a first for Tea Party Boise Inc. (TPBI), which sponsored the debate. The group had slated 11 candidates to attend, but Allan Salzberg, running as a Republican in the 1st District, did not show up because he has withdrawn from the race. For the first hour of the debate, Russ Smerz, spokesman for TPBI, posed questions to candidates centered on four topics: fiscal responsibility, corruption and ethics, sovereignty, and liberty.
Fiscal Responsibility: Do you support a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring that Congress balance its budget?
Labrador said that the idea of the amendment is a good first step, but that congressmen must also avoid raising taxes to pay for additional programs under a balanced budget. His main opponent in the race for the Republican nomination, Ward, said that he would also support the measure. Probably the biggest surprise came from a Republican on the stage, Chick Heileson, running to unseat Simpson. Heileson, who mentioned the U.S. Constitution in almost every answer he gave Saturday night, said the founders of the country didn't include the balanced budget provision in the Constitution for a reason. He explained that such an amendment would hamper the country's ability to respond to crisis or fund wars or military operations. Heileson was joined in that sentiment by the lone Democrat on the stage, Crawford, also running in the 2nd District. "Sometimes it's necessary to spend more than you're taking in," Crawford said.
Corruption: Will you pledge to never take earmarks?
Schad, the independent running in the 2nd District, agreed to take the pledge. Schad said that because earmarks are unconstitutional, he would never use them if elected. Burton, running in the GOP primary in the 2nd District, also pledged to never utilize earmarks if elected. Mathews and Labrador would not pledge to never take earmarks. They did, however, argue for single-issue legislation and against using pet projects to bribe congressmen to get votes. Crawford called the process of earmarking "sneaky and underhanded," but said that earmarks are sometimes necessary to pass a good piece of legislation through Congress.
Sovereignty: Will you work to de-fund the more than 16,000 IRS agents called for in recent health care reforms that are to be hired to enforce the new law?
Ward said that de-funding the agents wouldn't go far enough. He said that Republicans need to work to capture Congress in the fall and the presidency in 2012 and then repeal the law before the major provisions of the reforms go into effect in 2014. "I'm opposed to current IRS agents," said Mike Washburn, a Libertarian running in the 1st District. Washburn said that he would like to see job growth in areas other than the federal government. Burton argued that the Democratic-controlled Congress went too far in trying to mend the health care crisis. She favors making everyone eligible for Medicaid health insurance. Heileson, Mathews, and Schad also vowed to oppose and de-fund federal health care reforms.
The question gave Labrador, the sponsor of a bill in the Idaho Legislature that required the state attorney general to file a lawsuit to repeal the reforms, a chance to tout his record as a legislator. Labrador said that he is the only one the on the stage who has actually fought against reforms. "We told the federal government to shove it," said Labrador.
Liberty: Would you work to abolish the U.S. Department of Education?
The only no answer from candidates came from the Republican Burton. She argued that a standardized, national education system is proper and benefits each citizen in society. She said that she is opposed to the No Child Left Behind Act because she feels it encourages teachers to teach children only how to take tests, and does not promote real learning in the classroom. Washburn said the he would abolish the department to bring more control to the local level. He said that each school district should function autonomously to allow parents to play a greater role in the education of their offspring.
The most amusing answer on this question came from Harley Brown, a Republican running in the 1st District. Brown said bluntly that the federal government takes money from the taxpayers, uses much of it on unnecessary administration, and then returns it to the states with strings attached. "They take blood out of one arm, stick it back in the other, and spill half of it along the way," said Brown.
Before the night was over, Tea Party officials opened the forum to prepared questions from the crowd. Candidates answered questions from potential voters on a myriad of topics, including global warming, immigration, cap and trade legislation, English-only rules, and federal money for local project, such as the Boise streetcar project. Approximately 200 people turned out to watch the debate, according to estimates.
Mathews and Heileson are scheduled to debate again May 9 as part of Idaho Public Television’s series of forums running up to the primary elections set for May 25. They will be joined by Simpson for that event. Labrador and Ward will have their turn on public television May 11.