BOISE — Four statewide political debates have been scheduled in advance of the general election: Rivals for U.S. Senate, Idaho Attorney General, state superintendent of schools and lieutenant governor all will debate on statewide TV as part of the “Idaho Debates,” starting Oct. 3.
The “Idaho Debates” are sponsored by the Idaho Press Club, the League of Women Voters, and Idaho’s public universities and air live statewide on Idaho Public Television.
But three high-profile GOP incumbents, Gov. Brad Little and Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson, have declined to participate.
In the case of the governor’s race, there still could have been a debate, because there were two candidates who met active campaign qualifications and indicated willingness to debate, Democrat Stephen Heidt and independent Ammon Bundy. However, after being told Little wouldn’t appear, Heidt also pulled out, declining to debate Bundy.
“I am disappointed to learn that Gov. Little has refused to participate in meaningful discussion of the issues which face our great state,” Heidt told the Idaho Press via text. “While I am eager to address specific issues related to the current administration’s actions and share my vision for Idaho, I feel debating the third-party candidate would be unproductive and speculative. Extremism has been allowed to flourish under Gov. Little’s administration. I do not wish to give extremism a louder voice. This decision was made in the best interest of Idahoans.”
Bundy said he “absolutely” would have debated Heidt, even in Little’s absence, and he was particularly disappointed in Little’s decision. “I believe that the people of Idaho should be able to hear from all of us and help them make their decision based upon the debates and the material that we talk about and the questions that were asked. And I think it’s disingenuous and also a lack of service to the people of Idaho by not having a debate,” Bundy told the Idaho Press.
Bundy is an anti-government activist who is making his first run for public office, unaffiliated with any party.
Little’s campaign manager, Hayden Rogers, issued this statement:
“Gov. Little is confident the people of Idaho know his strong track record of cutting taxes for families and businesses and directing historic investments to Idaho’s children, roads, and critical water projects. Just two weeks ago, Gov. Little and the Idaho Legislature championed unprecedented tax relief and support for schools while cutting taxes. Under his watch, Idaho cut 90% of red tape and became the least regulated state in the nation. We are confident Idahoans know what Gov. Little stands for based on his clear record of delivering results for the people of our great state.”
Simpson’s campaign also issued a statement touting his record. “For over two decades, Congressman Simpson has fought for Idaho’s values in Washington D.C. People in Idaho know that Mike Simpson is a strong supporter of Idaho agriculture and has used his seniority in Congress to not only delist the wolf, but to also keep the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species and to reign in the EPA,” said campaign advisor Sarah Nelson. “We in Idaho love our public lands, sometimes we love them to death, and Idahoans know that Mike Simpson authored the legislation to make the Great American Outdoors Act possible to address the maintenance of these lands we love to recreate on. He is working hard to further the development of nuclear power and is a strong supporter of becoming energy independent again. He is fighting against the Biden Administration’s policies that have fueled the worst inflation crisis in 40 years and are hurting Idahoans. Congressman Simpson has a strong record of representing Idaho and his constituents.”
Wendy Norman, Simpson’s Democratic challenger, responded, “Here’s the thing: He has done things for Idaho. But there are some questions about some of the things he has done, and some of the things he is unwilling to do. His attempts to blame everything that goes wrong on the Biden Administration is inaccurate, short-sighted, and it’s not helpful. … What is he doing to help the average American? And I don’t see it happening. Yes, he’ll do it for big groups. But what is he doing to help the average Idahoan with things like health care, affordable housing, and maintaining those lands?”
Norman, a first-grade teacher from Rigby in eastern Idaho, said, “The fact that he will not debate me tells me he’s not willing to face his constituents. That’s not what a representative democracy is supposed to be. He should be willing to meet the people who agree or disagree with him. That’s what the problem is with this: He’s not willing to do that. … Why can’t he meet me and discuss these issues in a way that allow your average Idahoan to decide for themselves, is he still who they want to represent them, or is it time for something new? I think it’s time for something new.”
1st District Rep. Fulcher, a two-term congressman, debated during his previous runs for office, as have both Simpson and Little, but like Simpson and Little, Fulcher skipped all debates this year. He was unopposed in the GOP primary.
“On Sept. 7, the Fulcher campaign personally reached out to the sponsor of (The Idaho) Debates, and on Sept. 8 had an in-depth discussion about the circumstances surrounding the potential of a debate between Mr. Fulcher and his Democrat challenger,” Fulcher’s campaign said in a statement to the Idaho Press on Monday afternoon. “The viability of the challenger’s campaign, as well as other factors, were discussed. During the course of the conversation, the Fulcher campaign respectfully declined a potential debate.”
His Democratic challenger, Kaylee Peterson of Eagle, said in a statement, “He consistently puts politics over country. Refusing to debate is a slap in the face to voters.”
Fulcher also faces Libertarian Darian Drake of Post Falls on the November ballot. Drake replaced former Libertarian nominee Joe Evans this month, too late for Drake to meet active-campaign criteria to qualify for the debate.
No debates were scheduled in the contests for state controller, treasurer or Idaho Secretary of State, because there weren’t at least two qualified candidates willing to debate. Democratic candidates Deborah Silver for treasurer and Shawn Keenan for secretary of state declined to debate; and both of GOP state Controller Brandon Woolf’s opponents didn’t respond to debate invitations; both are placeholder candidates for their parties.
The Idaho Debates are a longstanding institution in Idaho, airing live debates between statewide candidates on the only TV network that reaches all parts of the state.
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