The yin and yang of Idaho Republican politics was on full display this week, with competing appearances by Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.
The two leading contenders for next year’s GOP gubernatorial nomination offered voters some insights into where their priorities might lie, should they be tapped as the state’s next chief executive officer.
For McGeachin, that meant a visit to a Garden City brewery Tuesday, where she highlighted her support for small business as well as her opposition to Little’s long-expired COVID-19 shutdown order.
She also joined others in signing the 1776 pledge, which stems from the work of former President Donald Trump’s 1776 commission.
Trump created the commission in response to fears that public schools are teaching students to “hate America” by indoctrinating them into accepting progressive values. Those signing the pledge promise “to restore honest, patriotic education that cultivates in our children a profound love of our country.”
McGeachin, who has been endorsed by Trump, said in a news release that the former president made a surprise video appearance Tuesday “to thank everyone for being advocates of education in Idaho.”
Little responded a day later, emphasizing his priorities in a speech at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho’s annual conference in Boise.
He began by noting that Idaho ranks among the best states nationwide for economic growth, unemployment rates and regulatory burden, as well as having a triple-A credit rating.
“I’m proud to stand here today and tell you that Idaho’s economy is stronger than before the pandemic and perhaps … in the history of the state,” he said.
Little credited much of the state’s well-being to Idaho’s business leaders, saying they responded to the coronavirus pandemic with creativity and nimbleness, doing what they had to do to protect customers and employees.
He also noted that the executive and legislative branch have worked together to promote conservative fiscal policies. As a result, Idaho today has $1 billion in rainy day reserves and is looking at a potential $1.6 billion budget surplus.
“You can expect to see the responsible budgeting that we’ve had in the past continue in the future,” Little said. “Curbing government spending and returning taxpayer dollars should be the perpetual mission of all public servants.”
In their competing presentations, McGeachin and Little were following long-established campaign practices that encourage incumbents to trumpet all the good things that happened on their watch, while challengers talk about everything that went wrong and promote fears of worse things to come in the future.
What was interesting were the comments Wednesday from a panel of business leaders, who spoke at the ATI conference before the governor showed up. They displayed a major disconnect between the problems that keep business executives up at night and the culture war issues that have dominated much of the Legislature’s intra-party Republican battles in recent years.
“About six months ago, we were recruiting (someone from California) for a fairly high-level position in our company,” said Garrett Lofto, president and CEO of the J.R. Simplot Co. “They said, ‘You know what? Meridian, Idaho, is too expensive. It’s better for me to stay in California.’ How many of us have ever heard that?”
Odette Bolano, president and CEO of Saint Alfonsus Regional Medical Center, said her hospital has begun partnering with developers because the the affordable housing situation has reached crisis levels.
“We’ve never been in the housing industry, but we’re looking to be in the industry at this point, to be sure we’re creating affordable housing,” she said. “We’re looking at how we provide stipends for periods of time for colleagues, to ensure that they have housing.”
Education was another major concern for all the CEOs — not in terms of how much indoctrination might be going on, but in terms of the state’s anemic go-on rate and ensuring that Idaho kids are aware of the job opportunities available here.
“Keeping that (workforce) pipeline full is critical,” said Idaho Power President and CEO Lisa Grow. “We have a lot of craft jobs that are really great jobs. We’re constantly recruiting for those.”
The company also has a multitude of STEM jobs, she said, referring to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics positions that often require college degrees.
“Certainly we’re very concerned about the go-on rate,” Grow said. “I think we all have to lean in and figure out how we continue to educate the workforce of the future, because it makes a difference.”
Grow noted that Idaho Power “reflects the culture of Idaho” in all its diversity of thought and political values. However, by emphasizing similarities and the dignity of all people, the company is trying to reinforce a corporate culture in which customers and employees all feel valued.
“There is room at the table for all of us,” she said. “To exclude groups or marginalize groups, it doesn’t serve any of us. We need that kind of thinking if we’re going to continue to be the vibrant, wonderful state that we are.”
Where Idaho is at its best, Grow said, “is when industry, government and academia come together and work together. We simply have to stop fighting each other and really align with what’s important.”
The Associated Taxpayers conference is typically seen as the kickoff for the upcoming legislative session. It will be interesting to see whether the Republican yin and yang work together in this coming election year to address real problems, or if they’ll continue to emphasize their differences.
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