Republican Rep. Terry Gestrin wants to serve a fourth term in the Idaho House because he enjoys serving people and believes his experience is needed.
“I’ve still got to watch out for our rural counties” in Legislative District 8. With Idaho among the fastest growing states in the nation, transportation and infrastructure is his No. 1 priority. Ada County might be growing fast, but Custer is not. While seemingly everyone else is focused on the Treasure Valley’s needs, Gestrin is watching out for District 8 communities.
The top issue for Gestrin is keeping invasive species out of Idaho’s waterways — zebra and quagga mussels. If mussels take over Idaho rivers and lakes, it would harm infrastructure and threatened and endangered fish species such as salmon and steelhead, he said.
The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation requires boat owners to buy an annual invasive species sticker to fund inspection and cleaning stations to keep mussels out, to the tune of $3 million. Gestrin and others have been successful in directing about $2 million from the state’s general fund to the problem. That has increased the number of inspection stations and allowed others to remain open 24 hours a day every day during boating season.
“We found an mussel-infested kayak coming into Idaho on U.S. Highway 93,” recently, Gestrin said. The mussels were inside the kayak, which had not been properly drained of water from the Green and Colorado rivers and cleaned.
His second priority is to provide support for mining, as about five projects are getting ready to come on line including Idaho Cobalt Project, the old Empire Copper mine above Mackay, Midas Gold at the old Stibnite Mine and Thompson Creek where molybdenum mining is expected to resume. Jobs and natural resource issues will always be important for Idaho, he said.
Gestrin also wants to give Idahoans more tax relief. The 2018 Idaho Legislature reduced the state’s income tax rate and Idaho enjoyed a $190 million windfall due to federal tax reductions. More tax relief is needed. Gestrin will continue to vote for repeal of the sales tax on groceries.
Gestrin is still opposed to Medicaid expansion in Idaho and will vote no on Proposition 2. Expanding Medicaid is not the answer to closing the “gap” and giving access to health care for up to 78,000 Idahoans who can’t afford private insurance but earn too much to meet income eligibility guidelines for Medicaid, Gestrin said. Medicaid is broken and since the Affordable Care Act was passed, insurance premium rates have doubled or tripled for some people. Throw the Affordable Care Act out and start over, he said.
“We’ll see what the people decide” on Prop 2, Gestrin said. “The ball is in their court now.”
Gestrin supports Proposition 1. Instant horse racing terminals bring in enough revenue to allow regular horse racing tracks to survive. The income from historic racing is important to keep tracks alive with good ponies and good purses, he said.
Idaho has proven it can do a good job of managing federal lands, Gestrin believes and he still supports state management of Forest Service and BLM lands, but not the sale of public lands.
The Forest Service can enter into cooperative agreements or contracts to allow state forestry agencies to do watershed restoration projects and forest management such as fuels reduction, forest thinning and timber sale layout and administration on national forest lands, he said.
Idaho Department of Lands has done so and it has worked well in the Clearwater River country, Gestrin said. Increased timber sales, thinning fuels and such projects reduces wildfire danger. To the argument that states cannot afford to pay for wildfire suppression like the Forest Service does, Gestrin points out that the federal government, not the states, allowed forests to get into the current condition with thick timber.
“We’ve got to manage our forests so they don’t burn up,” Gestrin said. “The best way is to work together on it,” such as under the Good Neighbor Authority. The state has more flexibility to offer timber sales, is more nimble and can get the job done. Logging will reduce wildfire danger and provide jobs, he said.
“I don’t want the state to sell public land” to private interests, Gestrin said, except in a minimal way such as selling the cottage sites around Priest Lake to purchase more timber lands that will benefit the state’s school endowment fund.
“I’m opposed to the wholesale sale” of state or federal lands, but some BLM land around communities could be sold to allow expansion. Stanley is pinched, surrounded by national forest land with very little private property, he said.
“We’re all used to public land,” in Idaho, Gestrin said. “Access is very important.” He’s seen a disturbing trend in Valley and Adams counties where “Texas billionaires” have purchased former Boise Cascade timberlands and closed off access across their property to the Payette and Boise national forests, in some cases closing Forest Service roads. People have used that access for the past 100 years for hunting and fishing.
“That is our wildlife out there,” Gestrin said.
The solution he sees is negotiation. Members of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association have negotiated authority for snowmobilers to cross private land onto public land, he pointed out. Public access, one at a time, can be negotiated.
The access fight with the billionaires is primarily in the hands of the Valley County commissioners, said Gestrin, who was a commissioner for 10 years. In the 1990s he fought with the Forest Service for public access and says he helped reopen a couple hundred miles of road.
Gestrin said voters should choose him over his opponent, Jon Glick, because of his experience and dedication.
“We could talk philosophies, but I fall back on my experience. You don’t learn this job in a year,” he said.
Gestrin describes himself as a conservative Republican who works for the people. He is an Idaho native who has always lived in District 8 except when he attended Idaho State University.
Gestrin points out he makes many trips from Donnelly to the east side of District 8, engaging with fellow Republicans at Lincoln Day and other events.
“It’s not easy to get there from here. I’m committed to serving the whole district,” he said.
Gestrin gives the 2018 session of the Idaho Legislature a “B” for reducing income tax rates. Another legislative success was increasing education funding by $100 million, he said.
Gestrin saw a couple of his bills fail in the last legislative session, but considers them important and if elected will try again for approval. He tried and failed to require that out-of-state owners of ATVs and UTVs buy an Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation sticker to help fund trail maintenance. He would also like fat-tire bikers and cross country skiers who use groomed snowmobile trails to help fund maintenance with sticker purchases. Many are willing to pay, he said.