BOISE — The two candidates who hope to be Idaho’s next lieutenant governor would bring remarkably different views to the job, they said during a Wednesday debate on Idaho Public Television.
Former state Rep. Janice McGeachin, a Republican, and Army veteran and tech leader Kristin Collum, a Democrat, are the only candidates for the lieutenant governor’s seat on the November ballot. That means one of them will become the first female lieutenant governor in Idaho.
Collum, of Boise, described herself as a “moderate and pragmatic leader” focused on cooperation to find centrist solutions.
“Idaho extremists from either side are the problem,” Collum said in her opening statement. “Let’s meet in the middle.”
McGeachin, a small-business owner out of Idaho Falls, said she wants to hold on to Idaho “conservative values.” She touted a vision of limited government and, at one point, said she “absolutely” supported the western anti-government activism of the Bundy family.
“We are at a fork in the road,” McGeachin said. “We either hold fast to Idaho values or become lost, traveling down a progressive path.”
The lieutenant governor serves both as president of the Senate and as the person prepared to take over at a moment’s notice if something should happen to the governor. The lieutenant governor also steps in if the sitting governor is out of state. Past lieutenant governors have also taken on other projects; current Lt. Gov. Brad Little, for example, has added economic projects and cybersecurity to his priorities.
The last time Idaho had a governor and lieutenant governor of different political parties was from 1987 to 1995, with Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus and Republican Lt. Gov. Butch Otter. The pair developed an effective working relationship, including an agreement for Otter not to take surprise actions as acting governor when Andrus was out of town.
Both McGeachin and Collum said that as lieutenant governor, they would support whoever voters choose to be governor, regardless of party.
“Once we’re together, we’re Team Idaho,” Collum said. “So that’s the important thing. We may not agree on everything but we are on the same team and can get the job done.”
McGeachin owns a restaurant and automotive businesses, and served four terms in the House of Representatives before opting not to run again in 2012. Wednesday, she touted her experience in the Legislature as an advantage.
“The vice CEO of the state is not a role for an apprentice,” McGeachin said.
Collum was a software engineering manager at Xylem Inc. until she resigned earlier this year to focus on her run. She’s a former Army officer and served under Colin Powell at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. After 12 years in the military, she left to work at companies including Micron and Hewlett-Packard.
She said her technical background could help improve cybersecurity in the state.
Collum and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan campaigned together on a “joint ticket” just before the primary. Collum has since largely separated herself from the Jordan campaign. When questioned about it during the debate, Collum said she learned the two positions are elected separately in Idaho. She said the pair’s campaigns and bank accounts are separate and she doesn’t often talk to Jordan.
“I’ve been very busy working on my own campaign,” Collum said.
McGeachin, in turn, called Collum’s statement “disingenuous.”
Collum’s other major theme of the night was her support for Medicaid expansion. And Proposition 2 represents one of the candidates’ most significant differences.
McGeachin, a former House Health and Welfare chair, characterized Medicaid expansion as “an expansion of Obamacare in our state. Which I have always opposed.”
The measure on the Nov. 6 ballot would expand Medicaid to cover additional working-poor Idahoans, including the approximate 62,000 people who also don’t qualify for subsidies on the state health insurance exchange.
The federal government would cover 90 percent of the costs for the new Medicaid enrollees. An actuarial firm hired by the state estimated the remaining 10 percent might cost Idaho $105 million over 10 years, depending on whether its projections of indigent health care savings, enrollment growth and economic stability hold true.
“It is a future fiscal catastrophe,” McGeachin said. “There’s no funding mechanism attached.”
If Proposition 2 passes, the 2019 Legislature will be tasked with figuring out how to fund it. McGeachin would not say whether she would use her vote, should it be needed, to approve that funding.
“I’m not trying to evade the question, but ... if Prop 2 passes in Idaho, the way that the legislative policy body chooses to implement, I don’t know what that’s going to be,” she said. “I don’t know if they’ll choose to implement the program and cut funding in other areas. I don’t know if they’re going to choose to raise a tax or which tax that might be.”
Collum countered McGeachin’s response, saying “careful and cautious approaches shouldn’t take six years.” She said she supported Proposition 2 for many reasons, including the federal funding.
“People are dying. People are sick. People are falling through the cracks and this is wrong,” Collum said. “So the people across the state have gotten this on the ballot and they are ready to vote it in.”
If the measure doesn’t pass, Collum said she would continue to work to serve the people who fall in the Medicaid gap.
McGeachin made clear that she believes life starts at conception and the state should have a vested interest in the life of the “unborn child.” She said she does not support punishing women who choose to have an abortion, a debate that arose in the primary.
If the Supreme Court ever overturns Roe v. Wade, McGeachin said the issue would and should go back before the states to decide abortion restrictions for themselves.
Collum said she favors abortion rights — and the state staying out of the matter. “The last thing we want is the government getting into such an intimate and personal decision,” she said.
She also contrasted McGeachin’s comments with the Medicaid debate. “My opponent is all about life at some points, but not about life when it’s Medicaid expansion,” Collum said.
When asked if she would veto a bill on abortion restrictions, should the sitting governor be out of state, Collum said she would consider it if “it’s financially responsible, if it won’t be litigious, if we’ve talked, and I may have to. But I would have to consider it very heavily.”
Gun control and the West
McGeachin has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and said she supports the Second Amendment and sees no need for new gun control.
Collum said she does not have immediate plans to strengthen gun laws.
“I don’t see a problem in Idaho for most gun owners. I’m not trying to go out of my way to take guns,” Collum said.