Idaho Falls City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Barbara Ehardt has been appointed to the state House.
Ehardt, who didn’t run for another term on the City Council this year, instead mounting an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to incumbent Mayor Rebecca Casper, will replace Janet Trujillo, whom Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter recently appointed to the state Tax Commission.
Otter chose Ehardt out of three names proposed by the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee to fill the District 33 House seat. The committee’s top pick was Mark Fuller, the chairman of the Bonneville GOP central committee. Ehardt was its second-ranked pick, and third was Paul Fuller, Mark’s son and a member of his law firm.
The 2018 legislative session starts Jan. 8, three days before Ehardt’s Council term expires. This will give Ehardt one session before she has to run for the House seat in the May 2018 primaries and November general election.
“I am indeed humbled to receive this appointment from Governor Otter,” Ehardt said in a statement. “It has been my great honor to serve the people of Idaho Falls these past four years and now it will be my honor to serve the great people of Idaho in this upcoming legislative session. Truly I am humbled by this opportunity.”
Mark Fuller also was the committee’s top pick for the District 33 Senate seat, which became vacant when longtime incumbent and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis was named U.S. attorney for Idaho, but Otter skipped Fuller over then, too, in favor of Tony Potts.
Ehardt said she doesn’t yet know if she will be introducing any bills or focusing on any particular issues during her first session.
“I’m not going in with plans,” she said. “Rather, I think I’ll go in more with the attitude of immersing myself in the work and the assignments that I will be given, and then trying to do the best job for both those people here in … District 33 as well as the people of Idaho.”
Ehardt said she would be interested in being appointed to the House Local Government Committee, pointing to her experience in city government and saying she has often heard complaints from city officials about state overreach. She also said she might be interested in the Education and Agricultural Affairs committees.
Ehardt said she hasn’t decided yet whether she will run for a full term in 2018, but said she “certainly wouldn’t rule that out,” saying that political involvement and public service has been a large part of her life for a long time.
“I really do enjoy doing this kind of thing, and offering a voice for many people who sometimes feel like their voice isn’t heard,” she said.
District 33, which covers most of the city of Idaho Falls, will have two new lawmakers in January, and Potts and Ehardt’s appointments mean the district’s delegation will be among the most conservative in the state.
Ehardt opposed property tax increases while on the Council, sometimes voting against city budgets and criticizing what she viewed as excessive spending, and some prominent members of the further-right wing of the local party supported her mayoral bid.
District 33’s other representative, Bryan Zollinger, has also staked out a reputation as one of the most conservative members of the House in the year he has been there so far — he got a 98 percent grade from the Idaho Freedom Foundation for his 2017 voting record, third-highest in the House, and he has been involved in efforts to create an “Idaho Freedom Caucus” to help push more conservative ideas during the 2018 session.
Ehardt came in second in a five-way race for mayor in November, advancing to a December runoff which she lost to Casper.
Ehardt grew up on the numbered streets in the core of Idaho Falls and went to North Idaho College and Idaho State University on basketball scholarships. She went into coaching for 15 years, ending up as head women’s basketball coach at California State University, Fullerton, before returning to her hometown in 2003. Today, she is manager of youth programming at Apple Athletic Club, owns Coach E’s Camps and Clinics and is a motivational speaker.
She also has served as president of the Bonneville County Republican Women and in various roles with the county central committee.
Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757.