Christensen challenges Loertscher



Age: 45
Occupation: Small business owner
Education: Bachelor’s in political science, Idaho State University
Years in district: 10
Age: 74
Occupation: Farmer
Education: Bachelor’s in accounting, University of Utah
Years in district: 49

One of the longest-serving members of the Idaho Legislature, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone, faces a primary challenge from the right this year.

Challenger Chad Christensen, who lives outside Ammon, said in an interview he thinks Loertscher has spent too much time in office, and he thinks it’s time for a change.

“He’s been in office way too long,” Christensen said, adding he thought Loertscher was no longer “a voice for the people.”

Loertscher, who serves as chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said constituents in District 32 benefit from his long service and leadership there.

“I think now is a time we need to maintain some stability in the Legislature,” he said, noting that many senior members have recently departed and others have chosen not to seek re-election.

District 32 is a sprawling rural district that encompasses Teton, Caribou, Bear Lake, Franklin and Oneida counties in addition to eastern Bonneville County.

Christensen said he was motivated to run because Loertscher wouldn’t grant hearings for certain bills at the Legislature. Specifically, he said he felt House Bill 444 — a more expansive version of the castle doctrine and the stand your ground law that became law this year — should have been heard. Christensen said he supports every bill getting not only a hearing before a committee but a vote on the House floor.

“I think all bills should be debated on the floor,” Christensen said.

Loertscher said House Bill 444 had numerous constitutional problems identified by an attorney general’s opinion, was poorly drafted and wasn’t supported by the National Rifle Association, the nation’s main pro-gun lobby. And he pointed out that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter allowed the alternative version of the bill to become law without his signature — a move to register protest that’s just short of a veto. If 444 passed, he said, it wouldn’t have become law anyway. Loertscher said it’s that kind of expertise and knowledge of the process that serves his constituents well.

“It’s called leadership,” he said. “And when you’re entrusted with leadership, you have to lead.”

The two candidates also have disagreements in important areas of state policy, including education, health care and taxes.

Loertscher said with recent increases in teacher pay and school funding, Idaho is moving on the right track toward a good public education system. He said a key improvement would be to reduce the role of state-level actors and return more control to individual school districts.

“We’ve been trying to micromanage too much,” Loertscher said. “We should just give districts money and let them decide how to educate kids.”

Christensen said the state should get more funds to education by cutting waste, including some full state government departments, in order to free up more cash. And he argued the state should push back against federal regulations on education.

“I’m not a fan of the federal attachment to the education system,” he said.

Christensen said, in general, the government should get out of the health care system, and he said he favors cutting the existing Medicaid program, though he said he supports health care for the disabled and the elderly, the primary beneficiaries of the current system.

“I don’t the government should be involved in health care,” he said.

With a large grassroots campaign to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot for a popular vote, Loertscher said if state voters back the idea the Legislature shouldn’t move to reverse the outcome. That’s what lawmakers did a decade ago when voters passed a term limit system, but it was a move Loertscher opposed.

“When the people have expressed their will, we ought to follow it,” Loertscher said.

Short of that effort, Loertscher said he would continue to make efforts to find solutions for Idahoans in the Medicaid gap.

“I think we’ll eventually fix the gap, one way or another,” Loertscher said.

Christensen said he would support large tax cuts, which could be paid for by eliminating some state government agencies, though he didn’t specify which agencies.

“I think any tax cut is a good tax cut,” he said.

Loertscher said he expects to push toward ending the sales tax on groceries next year, but the details are important. If the grocery tax credit is eliminated, some could see a net tax increase through their income taxes, he said. Some additional income tax cuts, perhaps through expanding the new child tax credit, would be needed to prevent that, he said.

Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.