Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman wants to offer Idaho Republicans a different option than re-electing incumbent Gov. Butch Otter in the May 25 primary election. She said she and others in the GOP are unhappy with the status quo in the state Capitol.
“I view this campaign as providing a credible alternative,” she told IdahoReporter.com. “The governor’s conduct, last year in particular, needed a challenge.” Ullman said that while this year Republican lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session in less than three months and didn’t discuss raising taxes, that wasn’t true in 2009 and may not hold true in the future. “If the governor gets re-elected, which governor do we get in 2011, the 2009 tax-and-spend version or the 2010 ‘no new taxes’ version? There’s no consistency there.”
Ullman said she opposes Otter’s policy and tactics last year in an effort to secure more state funding for road construction. The governor and some lawmakers tried to raise taxes on gasoline and rental cars as well as increase car and truck registration fees. “To intentionally veto appropriations legislation to force his own agenda of raising taxes was very, very wrong,” she said. “Not only did he want to raise the gas tax and registration fee during the worst recession since the Great Depression, but he literally held the Legislature hostage to do so.” Ullman added that she doesn’t think now is the time to build new roads in Idaho, and that she’d tell lawmakers and the Idaho Transportation Department to shift existing road dollars to take care of needed repairs. “As far as us having a crisis, I don’t buy it. I do believe that we have bridges and roads that need maintenance. I believe that life-safety issues with regards to our roads absolutely need to be addressed.”
Ullman is in the middle of a four-year term as an Ada County Commissioner, and she said challenging Otter now could be viewed as a safe move since she won’t lose her elected position. A sitting Idaho governor hasn’t lost a primary election since three-term Republican Gov. Robert Smylie in 1966. Ullman’s most recent campaign finance report, filed with the Idaho secretary of state at the end of 2009, showed that she had self-funded her campaign with $1,500. She said she is finding time to travel around the state and campaign in addition to her full-time job as a commissioner and duties as a mother to six children. She visited north Idaho last weekend, and will head to east Idaho this weekend.
She repeatedly talked about her solution-based approach to governing, which she said separates her from Otter and other primary candidates. On creating jobs, that means creating tax credits and incentives that encourage small businesses to form and hire new workers. “We’re not losing dollars, because the businesses wouldn’t exist unless someone creates it to begin with,” she said. “For the first several years, most start-up businesses aren’t generating a lot of income or paying a lot of taxes anyway. We could give them that incentive.” A similar tax credit plan passed in the Idaho House this year, but failed in the Senate.
Ullman’s plan for health care includes trying to lower costs by building up prevention efforts, like free medical screenings she helped organized in Ada County. Ullman said such programs, which rely on help from medical students at Idaho State University, could be expanded using students from other schools, including Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston.
“I think prevention makes a lot more sense than picking up the bills at any level of government for ER care for people who don’t have access to health care,” Ullman said. “To me, it’s about personal responsibility. We want people to take care of themselves. And if they don’t have the resources, the financial means, or the insurance, at least we’re providing them some ability to get that screening and identify any problems that they have.”
Ullman supports the lawsuit against new federal health care legislation backed by Otter, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and attorneys general in more than a dozen states, but said rejecting measures from Congress and President Barack Obama is just the start of containing health care costs. “I don’t think Obama has the solution, but I want an actual solution,” she said. “I haven’t seen anybody else running for this race that’s actually proposing a solution. Everybody running just sort of has shades of ‘we just won’t accept what Obama wants.’”
Ullman wants Idaho to rein in public school costs by reducing the number of administrators and potentially consolidating smaller districts to eliminate the number of superintendents and other non-teaching jobs on the payroll. But she said she doesn’t want to see forced school consolidation. “My preference is that the decisions be made at the local level, but that we’ve got to go in that direction,” Ullman.
Opposition to tax increases and other budget issues have been central to Ullman’s primary campaign. She said she doesn’t usually bring up social issues, but that if she’s elected, she’ll do more to raise awareness about child abuse in Idaho. “I don’t know that it’s a matter of resources, but as a governor and as a mother, I could use that position as a bully pulpit to bring more public attention to the issue,” she said. “It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart that I think is being neglected right now.”
Ullman faces Otter, former elk rancher Rex Rammell, Tamara Wells of Post Falls, and Pete Peterson of Boise on the Republican May 25 primary election for governor.