Candidates seeking to represent District 26’s House Seat B in the Idaho Legislature—incumbent Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Republican challenger Bill Thorpe of Bliss—found common ground on some topics while disagreeing on others during the Idaho Mountain Express’ Candidates’ Forum debate Wednesday night.
Areas of agreement included abortion—with both candidates stating that they support a woman’s right to choose—and the Legislature’s duty to continue to fully fund Medicaid expansion, as approved by voters in 2018.
On other issues—including education funding, Idaho’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state’s $100 million surplus—their answers differed.
When asked whether the state currently provides adequate funding to Idaho’s public school system, Thorpe said he believed the amount of funding was sufficient—but that he would like to see more of that money put toward things that have a “direct student impact,” such as teacher salaries and student programs.
“I believe the amount of money is correct,” Thorpe said. “We just need to make it more efficient.”
Toone acknowledged “flaws” in the state’s current education budget and said she believed districts should be given more flexibility in how they spend the state money given to them. At the same time, Toone said, “a little extra money” is needed to “make it more efficient.”
A proposal two years ago to change the way Idaho distributes funding to its schools—switching from a formula based on average daily attendance to a formula based on enrollment—would have cost school districts $100 million, Toone noted.
“In order to be more efficient with our money, we’re going to have to spend a little extra money,” Toone said.
Asked about Idaho’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thorpe said he believed the governor should have convened the Legislature to participate in the decision-making process sooner than August, when a special session was held to address pandemic-related issues.
“Yes, it was an emergency,” Thorpe acknowledged. “I’m not trying to Monday-morning quarterback. But I think there were times when it would have been appropriate to call the Legislature into session and ask for their input on this extraordinary situation.”
Toone said she has “backed” Gov. Brad Little on his decisions so far, though she “[hasn’t] agreed with all the pieces.”
“I think there are things he could do better,” Toone said. “Absolutely, there will be things you can address in legislation that could make the process work better…We can hindsight play all we want. But it’s about how you go forward and make progress with the state and our local communities.”
Idaho’s surplus and Rainy Day Fund
Asked how Idaho should manage the $100 million surplus that it had at the end of the 2020 fiscal year, Thorpe said he believed the state should “sit tight for the time being” and hold off until January to see what economic conditions are like before making any decisions.
Toone said she would like to see some of Idaho’s excess money spent on local infrastructure, noting that the state also currently has $500 million in its Rainy Day Fund.
“I do believe we need to use some of it because we have infrastructure issues,” Toone said. “That doesn’t mean we have to drain the pot.”
Asked about firearm restrictions, Thorpe said he is against so-called “red flag laws,” which allow courts to issue a special kind of protection order—typically requested by family members or law enforcement—to temporarily confiscate firearms from a person who a judge determines to be a danger to themselves or others.
“I think it’s one of many ways that the leftists are trying to put more regulation in place to ultimately get rid of the Second Amendment,” Thorpe said.
Toone did not directly address red flag laws, but said that, as a “Second Amendment supporter,” she is generally “an advocate for education” when it comes to firearms.
“I truly believe that if I have to have a hunter’s ed course to hunt a deer, I should have to have a hunter’s or a training course when I have to carry a gun and point it at a person,” Toone said.