Lt. Gov. Little, Chmelik vie in GOP primary

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — When Lt. Gov. Brad Little talks about the future of Idaho, it’s all about giving residents the opportunity and tools to be more innovative through education and a good business climate.

Jim Chmelik is equally passionate about advancing the state, but his path is more focused on Idaho gaining control of federally managed public lands as a way to produce what he predicts will be an economic windfall.

Who will get an opportunity to pursue those goals in the general election will be decided Tuesday in the GOP primary.

The Republican winner will face Democrat Bert Marley and Constitution Party candidate David Hartigan in November.

The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and fills in for the governor when he’s out of the state. The job also includes working on economic development and vetting candidates for boards, commissions and councils.

“Most of our successful companies have been homegrown,” said Little, listing Micron Technology, Inc., and J.R. Simplot Company as examples. “I think we should take our cue from that. The small industry entrepreneur that want’s to grow, we want to help them.”

A critical part of that, he said, is producing a workforce capable of competing in a world that increasingly demands skilled workers. And that, he said, requires a good educational system.

“To be really cutting edge, you have to have those good ideas that come out of universities,” said Little, the lieutenant governor since 2009 and before that a state senator.

Chmelik, an Idaho County Commissioner, said the state’s most vexing problems can be solved by taking control of federal lands, an eventuality he believes is just a matter of time. About 63 percent of Idaho is managed by the federal government.

“There’s no option other than getting the land back,” Chmelik said. “I believe we can do that by changing representatives to people who can fight for it.”

Controlling those lands, he said, would mean an opening up of natural resources, eliminating burdensome environmental protections, and reducing regulations that prevent the state from becoming more prosperous.

Gaining control of federal public lands is an idea that’s been around for decades in Idaho but has so far not produced significant results. Chmelik said a continuation of that would be an injustice that’s unacceptable.

“Then we’re just done in this state,” he said. “Then this is ‘something something’ America because it’s not the United States anymore. I’ll move to Texas, I guess, find a state that does have its independence.”

About 2 percent of Texas is managed by the federal government.

Gaining control of federal lands is a top priority of Tea Party candidates in the Idaho GOP primary, which is closed to non-Republicans this year. So Little approaches the topic carefully, noting he understands Chmelik’s position.

“Jim’s issue is getting total control of federal lands, and I’d like to see that,” he said. “I’ve been working on this issue all my adult life. I just know how slow it is working with the federal government. But I don’t think we should forego the smaller solutions when we’re looking for the big prize.”

Some of those smaller solutions include such things, he said, as modernizing schools, creating dual credit systems so young adults have more skills coming out of high school, and making education possibilities specific to companies that want to create products in Idaho.

The state is at a disadvantage in competing with nearby states that have more energy resources, he said.

Besides gaining control of federal land, Little said Idaho could improve on many fronts by becoming more autonomous. Along those lines, he said he would work as lieutenant governor to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in Idaho.

After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, Idaho lawmakers chose to create an Idaho insurance exchange rather than use one controlled by federal workers.

Chmelik said he would work to eliminate both exchanges in the state.

“I’m in favor or ripping the Affordable Care Act out by the roots,” he said.

Little has worked often with Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, mainly on economic tasks. But he’s also filled in for official appearances.

Chmelik said he would have no problem working with others as lieutenant governor.

“I can work with anybody,” he said. “That doesn’t always mean I’m going to agree with them.”