Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of profiles for candidates seeking election in legislative District 26.
After Republican Mike McFadyen moved to Fairfield from California six years ago for retirement, he spent his days volunteering with the Camas County School District and designing and building electronic and lighting systems for the Camas County Sheriff’s Office or the local library.
A campaign for the Idaho Legislature was the furthest thing from his mind. That changed in the aftermath of a tragedy that struck his family in Rancho Tehama, Calif., on Nov. 14, 2017.
A deranged gunman attacked McFadyen’s brother, Troy, and sister-in-law Michelle, as they were driving to the store, according to the Redding Record Searchlight newspaper. Troy suffered gunshot wounds to his legs and Michelle died in the shooting. The gunman attempted to attack the elementary school but couldn’t because the school had gone into lockdown. The gunman died in a shootout with police.
McFadyen said he went and stayed with his brother for several weeks as he healed. After coming back to Idaho, McFadyen said he had a conversation with Troy about becoming more active politically to stop that kind of violence from coming to Idaho.
McFadyen and his family grew up in the Red Bluff area in Northern California. He said he saw the town suffer from increased crime, gang activity and drug trafficking.
“I had nothing to do with politics my entire life,” he said. “My brother said, ‘You have to do this. You have to be Michelle’s voice. You have to do everything you can to help keep that stuff from coming to Idaho.’ ”
McFadyen decided to challenge Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, in the race to represent legislative District 26 in the House of Representatives this year. The district covers Blaine, Lincoln, Camas and Gooding counties.
McFadyen has an inventor and engineer’s mind, and spent his career managing projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense that involved Trident nuclear submarines and the EPA, including one of the largest wetlands remediation projects in the U.S.
While they were still living in Northern California several years ago, McFadyen said, he and his wife decided they needed to move elsewhere to raise their daughter, who is now in high school.
They looked from Washington state to Georgia, and kept thinking of Fairfield. On their first visit, they fell in love. He met with the sheriff and other deputies and felt safe.
“It kind of has this Mayberry feel to it,” McFadyen said.
He immediately got involved in school safety. He said his daughter will graduate from high school a year early. His wife works in the school cafeteria, and McFadyen volunteers as a substitute and knows all the kids by name.
School safety is an issue central to McFadyen’s candidacy. School shootings have claimed lives across America in recent years, and McFadyen said he wants to protect Idaho schools.
He does not support arming teachers with conventional weapons to defend their classrooms. He said he is working with the Camas County Sheriff’s Office to test a system that would use nonlethal means to subdue potential shooters. He declined to discuss his plan in detail, saying, “It’s not a good idea to advertise what you’re going to do.”
The best-trained shots in law enforcement and the U.S. military still get nervous when confronted with a violent situation, McFadyen said.
“Everybody misses a few rounds,” he said. “The more nervous they are, they more they miss. Teachers—they’re going to be extremely nervous. If they miss, they have to own their bullets.”
His methods would not include bullets that could shoot through the walls of a school.
“Whether I’m elected or not, I want to continue this program,” he said. “Stop the carnage. It’s a national disgrace, really.”
McFadyen does not support restrictions on firearm ownership as a partial solution to preventing gun violence in schools.
On the campaign trail in District 26, McFadyen still talks to Troy. Michelle was a concealed weapons permit holder, but they had left their firearm at home because they were going to the doctor’s office later. Had Michelle been armed, McFadyen believes she would be alive today.
“I think that cost her life,” he said.
Idaho voters will decide the fate of Proposition 2 in the Nov. 6 election, which would expand Medicaid to cover 51,000 to 62,000 residents in the gap population. McFadyen said he will not support it without funding. The measure is expected to cost the state $105 million over 10 years, but will bring in $4.69 billion in funding from the federal government.
“I think we need to get back to rewarding people that make sacrifices, and quit rewarding those who can and won’t,” McFadyen said. “We’ve gotten away from that.”
Looking more broadly, McFadyen said he sees a problem of dependence on government programs, including “able-bodied people claiming disability to get free stuff.”
“I think it’s counterproductive,” he said. “I really think we’re being taxed to death. I don’t see a way to finance [Medicaid expansion] right now, unless we’re raising taxes to a level that’s going to be oppressive to people who are providing and sacrificing.”
District 26 is among the few in Idaho capable of electing Democrats as well as Republican legislators. McFadyen said he would serve constituents from both parties, but isn’t shy about his conservative ideology. He said his parents are Democrats, as well as his sisters.
Though he doesn’t often mention it in conversations with his fellow Republicans, McFadyen is a retired union member. He said that helps him understand the other side of policy arguments.
“That isn’t always popular in the Republican Party,” he said.
McFayden said he excels at taking apart complex processes and systems, understanding how the individual pieces work, and putting it back together—hopefully better than he found it. He said he wants to put that to work on the problems confronting Idaho as a state lawmaker, while protecting what makes the state great to begin with.
“We have the answer,” he said. “We have what people are looking for. Why ruin that? I take everything apart. I have to know how it works. It’s served me well all these years.”