A farmer from Shelley has thrown his hat in the ring to run for Jim Risch's U.S. Senate seat.
Risch, who has been in the Senate since 2009 and is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has announced he is seeking another term, and no fellow Republicans have filed to challenge him. Ray Writz of Coeur d'Alene has filed to run on the Constitution Party line.
Oler, a 48-year-old U.S. Army veteran, is the manager of his family's farm in Shelley, where he does much of the administrative work. This is his first time running for office. Oler said he has been interested in the idea since 1989, when he was in high school and spent six weeks as a page in the Idaho Senate. He said he is surprised it took him so long, but President Donald Trump and what Oler views as the damage he is doing to the American system of government and norms of civility convinced him to run for office.
"It really took Trump and what he's doing to the country to shake me out of that complacency," he said.
As Oler drove his tractor and tilled his family's grainfield, he said he first started to think about running in January 2019, when the U.S. government was shut down for a month due to an impasse over Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for a wall along the U.S./Mexico border. Oler said Trump had a Republican House and Senate for two years. If he couldn't get funding for a wall passed then, he asked, why would he expect it just after an election where the Democrats had taken control of the House?
"Trump is a horrible negotiator," Oler said. "He didn't want to look weak, and he was just running scared at the time. So he ended up looking weaker, essentially."
Oler recalled he was doing the farm's taxes at the time, trying to contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture but being unable to since they were closed. While his farm wasn't too impacted, he said other people were hurt more by the shutdown. Meanwhile, he said, Republicans in the Senate seem to be scared of Trump and go along with him rather than acting a separate branch of government. He pointed to Arizona's Jeff Flake and Tennessee's Bob Corker, both Trump critics who chose not to run for re-election.
"Most Republican senators seem to be more scared of a primary than they are of a general election," he said.
Oler is highly critical of Trump's trade policies and the current trade war with China, saying it is hurting agriculture. Oler said there are problems with U.S.-China trade relations that need to be addressed but Trump is handling it poorly. While the government has made payments to some farmers who have lost money, Oler said the payments haven't made up for many people's losses and have cost more than what the government has taken in by putting tariffs on Chinese goods.
"That still hasn't made the American farmer whole," he said. "That still hasn't allowed the American farmer to recover his or her losses. And family farms are stressed."
Oler is also worried about the waivers the Trump administration recently granted to let more oil refineries not add ethanol to their fuel, which he says will lead corn farmers to grow other crops and have ripple effects in the market. Oler contrasted Risch and his seatmate U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo's stances on these issues with Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa who has been more outspoken about their effects on Iowa farmers.
"I don't hear them complaining about what Trump's doing with ethanol waivers or what he's doing with the trade war," Oler said. "They just sit tight and don't say anything."
Oler also criticized the 2017 federal income tax cut, which he said has mostly benefited the rich and big corporations. When it passed, Oler said, Risch and Crapo put out a statement saying, among other things, that it would lead to more revenue due to economic growth. Instead, Oler said, the deficit has gone up since then.
"I really don't consider Trump and Crapo to be conservatives," Oler said. "I think we're in the post-conservative era here."
Oler said he would be interested in serving on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, noting that no Idahoans are on either the House or Senate Agriculture committees, and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which oversees Idaho National Laboratory.
As well as Oler and Harris, other candidates have contacted the state Democratic Party about running but aren't yet ready to announce, said party spokeswoman Lindsey Johnson. The party stays neutral in primaries, she said.
The Risch and Harris campaigns didn't return requests for comment Friday.
The primary will be held in May 2020.