Rex Rammell and Sharon Ullman tried to sway away GOP voters from re-electing Gov. Butch Otter by criticizing his plan to raise some taxes for roadwork last year, by naming areas of the state and federal government that aren’t working, and speculation from Ullman and another gubernatorial candidate that Otter might resign either before the fall election or sometime after he is elected to a second term.
Otter declined to attend the debate, and both challengers said he should have shared the stage. “It’s unfortunate the governor has chosen not to participate,” Ullman said at the start of the debate broadcast on Idaho Public Television.
“I’d like to know why he’s so arrogant to think he doesn’t need to show up for a public debate,” Rammell said about Otter near the end of the debate. “Maybe he knows he will lose this public debate, and that’s why he didn’t show up.” Rammell had more unkind words for the governor, saying he lacked courage and is the most amoral governor Idaho has had.
After Rammell’s comments, Ullman floated a rumor that Otter could step down after the election, letting Lt. Gov. Brad Little take his place. After the debate, independent candidate for governor Jana Kemp, who attended the debate in Boise, said Otter could potentially step down before early September, which would allow the Idaho Republican Party to pick a replacement for the general election.
Ullman, an Ada County commissioner, called for reforms to cut wasteful spending, while Rammell, a former elk rancher from Idaho Falls, said large state programs like education and health and welfare need to be restructured and that the state’s income tax should be eliminated.
“I believe our health care system is broken,” Ullman said.
“There’s not really very many programs in my opinion that are working very well,” Rammell said.
“I don’t believe that the governor is doing enough to attract those employers,” Ullman said.
Rammell called for eliminating the Idaho State Department of Education. “I believe we will save millions and millions of dollars in bureaucratic inefficiencies,” he said. “It is going to take more than a few cost saving measures … We have to entirely restructure education.”
Both candidates also opposed recent health care laws approved by Congress. “I believe that the president’s health care plan will backfire,” Ullman said. “We need to have a system that provides an incentive to people to stay healthy.”
Both Ullman and Rammell also support the multi-state lawsuit opposing the health care legislation that Idaho has signed onto, though Rammell said it likely won’t work. "If I’m the governor of Idaho, I will say no, we’re not doing it, whether it’s constitutional or not,” he said. It’s an injust law.” He added that he’d oppose implementation of the plan by almost any means necessary. “I’m ready to take the states’ rights fight further than any governor in recent history. [The federal government] will be asked to leave this state.”
Ullman didn’t go quite as far on opposing the plan if the states lose the lawsuit. “We’ve already had one civil war,” she said in response to Rammell.
“We’ve been trying it her way, and we’re losing this country, day by day,” Rammell responded. “We’re on the fast track to socialism … It is time for a governor with some guts to stand up and say ‘No more. We’re not going to allow this to happen.’”
Both candidates were united in their opposition to raising the gas tax and registration fees to pay for roadwork, a move Otter failed to pass through the Legislature last year. Ullman also voiced her opposition to Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) program, which uses bond money for work on six road construction projects across the state. “When the dollars aren’t there, you don’t borrow dollars and spend ahead,” she said.
The two Republican candidates also shared support for Arizona’s recent anti-illegal immigration legislation that has received national attention. Ullman said it might need to be tweaked to fit Idaho, though Rammell said he would push it, and said he wasn’t worried about potential blowback like boycotts of the state. “I’ve never been worried about a backlash when you do the right thing,” he said.
Rammell and Ullman separated themselves on religious issues. Rammell said that atheists and agnostics shouldn’t hold elected office. “This country was founded on faith,” he said. “That’s what made us great.”
“As far as tolerance in religion, I demonstrate it,” Ullman replied.
Both candidates trail Otter in fundraising, and a poll commissioned by Rammell showed Otter ahead of him. Watch the debate at IPTV's website.