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In one of Idaho’s congressional races, three different philosophies on the ballot

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Democrat and Libertarian candidates challenge incumbent Republican Fulcher for seat

The 2022 midterm election is the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began and since former President Donald Trump left office that voters will have a chance to react to how congressional representatives responded to both events. As the incumbent, Republican Rep. Russ Fulcher’s record on COVID stimulus bills, infrastructure bills and his response to false election-fraud allegations will be judged by the nearly 1 million residents of Idaho’s first congressional district.

And it’s the first national election since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, returning the authority to regulate abortion to the states.

Both of Idaho’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for re-election on Nov. 8, and Fulcher has two challengers on the ballot. Fulcher was first elected to the seat in 2018 to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Raúl Labrador.

Representatives serve two-year terms, which would make this term Fulcher’s third if he is re-elected.

The Idaho Capital Sun spoke with the candidates about their backgrounds, why they want the job and what their priorities would be if elected.

U.S. REP. RUSS FULCHER

Fulcher has deep roots in Idaho — more than a century deep.

Fulcher said his family history extends to the 1800s, and his mother, Barbara, still lives on the family’s dairy farm property in Meridian that has been there since 1919. But he knew early on he didn’t want to be a dairy farmer.

“There was this little startup in town called Micron that I got started with, almost at the beginning,” Fulcher said. “I don’t recall them having any sales yet, it was that new.”

Micron, founded in Boise in 1978 as a semiconductor design firm, began manufacturing and shipping its own products in the early 1980s.

Fulcher, 60, started on the night shift at Micron while he was a college student and went on to have a 15-year career at the burgeoning business that would soon become a multibillion-dollar titan in the semiconductor space. He said he was one of the first to take on an international business development role for the company, which took him to many different countries.

Fulcher earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a Master of Business Administration degree from Boise State University. While he was a student and Micron employee, he worked as an intern in the office of former U.S. Sen. Jim McClure, R-Idaho, whose congressional career ran from 1967 to 1991.

Those experiences sparked Fulcher’s interest in politics, and he was eventually appointed to a seat in the Idaho Senate in 2005 to replace a senator who resigned. He served in the state Senate until 2014. Fulcher ran in the 2014 Republican primary for governor and lost to incumbent Gov. Butch Otter.

Congress and society are conflicted right now, Fulcher says

Fulcher described his time in Congress over the past two years as “one series of conflicts after another,” including the partisan fights over the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Fulcher was one of 139 House Republicans who voted against certifying the election results, and one of 126 House Republicans who signed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent several states from certifying the election results. Fulcher’s vote and participation in the amicus brief lent credence to the false claims that there was widespread voter fraud in the presidential election and that former President Donald Trump was the rightful victor.

Fulcher condemned the attacks on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but voted against the commission to investigate the attacks and voted against the subsequent impeachment of Trump for his role in the attacks.

“On January 20th, the process will take place to inaugurate a new president, and I believe, if our republic is to survive, we must respect that,” Fulcher said in a press release on Jan. 13, 2021. “I anticipate this will be made only more difficult and divisive by further attempts to impeach President Trump in the House, with only days left in his term, and without proper hearings or investigations taking place. … This is not the time to drive the partisan wedge deeper.”

As he has traveled the state and met with people, he says the division is not as dramatic as it is in D.C., but it’s still present.

“It’s a reflection on our society right now. It’s not just Congress that’s conflicted, it’s society that’s conflicted,” Fulcher said.

Many of Fulcher’s votes oppose federal spending

While Fulcher voted in favor of the CARES Act, which included the Paycheck Protection Program, in April 2020, under Republican President Donald Trump, he voted against the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act that became law under Democratic President Joe Biden. During the floor vote for the CARES Act, Fulcher said it was “agonizing” to take on the debt in the bill, but if the government shut down the economy, it had the responsibility of bringing it back.

Fulcher took issue with tax components of the American Rescue Plan, joining Idaho Gov. Brad Little to say the bill would help large, Democratic-leaning states at Idaho’s expense.

Fulcher called the infrastructure law a “bargaining chip” to pass the Build Back Better bill, which never made it through Congress, and he voted against the other bills over objections to what he saw as exorbitant federal spending.

He said he voted against the CHIPS+ Act, which allowed Micron to invest $15 billion in a new facility in Boise that will add thousands of jobs, because he said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, added $200 billion in “unrelated spending” to the bill. If that hadn’t been added, Fulcher said, he would have voted in favor of it.

Fulcher has also taken a position against earmarks in the appropriations process, including a recent appropriations bill that included 13 project requests for infrastructure projects in Rep. Mike Simpson’s district on the eastern side of Idaho. However, Simpson voted against the final version of the bill, citing its overall cost.

“If you want to take a 1,000-foot view, an earmark is a bribe for votes. That’s generally where I come down,” Fulcher said. “The policy we’ve taken, in my office, is if money has (already) been appropriated, we approved a budget and somebody is going to get it no matter what, then we go after it. We don’t go out and try to earmark the appropriation process in the first place, we don’t go out and try to get new money and add to the debt for a specific thing.”

If re-elected, Fulcher would focus on federal lands, border control

Fulcher said he would continue to seek more federal funding for Idaho through Payment in Lieu of Taxes — better known as PILT — and Secure Rural Schools programs. Two-thirds of Idaho land is owned by the federal government, and Fulcher said he has to educate new lawmakers on why it’s important for Idaho to receive money for that land.

“I have to figure out a way to make them care, or else we go away hungry,” Fulcher said.

If Fulcher had his way, Idaho’s federal lands would be given back to the state to manage. The revenue stream would increase and resources would yield more benefits if state agencies managed the land, he said.

Fulcher is also focused on border control, stopping the trafficking of fentanyl and bringing down inflation. He also plans to continue what he considers a strong track record of constituent services — helping people like Idaho veterans and those struggling with a problem with the IRS to break through bureaucratic logjams. By his count, his team has helped connect Idahoans with $10 million in benefits or taxes owed to constituents, and they have helped reunite families.

“People don’t see or hear about that, but if a family has a missionary in a far-off land and they get stuck, somebody has got to get the attention of the (U.S.) Secretary of State. We can do that,” Fulcher said. “Those are the most rewarding things that nobody will ever hear about.”

KAYLEE PETERSON

At 32, Kaylee Peterson is one of the youngest people in Idaho’s statewide elections this year. She has two children under the age of 10 at home, and up until she started her campaign for Congress, she was working full-time on two associate’s degrees from the College of Western Idaho.

Peterson was born in a rural area of Connecticut, but had family in Eagle, and she moved there when she was 10 years old. When she was young, she wanted to be a prosecuting attorney, and she was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ youth by age 13.

“I was heavily involved in as many different civic organizations as I could,” Peterson said.

In 2008, she volunteered for an Ada County commissioner campaign, where she helped with field organizing and canvassing.

“Just, instantly, I knew what I wanted to do,” Peterson said. “I loved it.”

Around that time, Peterson met her husband and started a family, delaying her plans. She said they struggled as a family starting out and had to build their life up over the past decade.

“We were collecting change out of the couch just to get soda at the gas station and borrowing money for diapers,” she said.

It was after election night in 2016, when former President Donald Trump was elected, that Peterson decided she wanted to go back to school. At the time, she was five months pregnant, which delayed her plans by a couple years again — followed by a pandemic — but in the past year and a half, she has been pursuing political science and criminal justice degrees at CWI.

“We had just watched the rhetoric become so vitriolic and suggestions of violence and mocking, and it seemed like the standard that we should’ve been holding elected officials to had been lowered,” Peterson said. “I realized I wasn’t the only one who was incredibly worried about the direction the country was going; it was felt all across the nation. And I realized politics is not supposed to make us feel that way.”

Peterson invites Republicans to Kuna town hall to ask her questions

Peterson said she didn’t realize how many seats in the 2022 midterms were uncontested until the Idaho Democratic Party put out a call for candidates, and she saw an opportunity to challenge Fulcher for his seat.

“For me, it’s like a moral calling, because I really do believe my opponent is a threat to the wellbeing of Idaho citizens,” Peterson said. “To be able to run this campaign and try and bring some enthusiasm and engagement and integrity back to the office is really important.”

Peterson said some of Fulcher’s actions that lacked integrity were his actions around the 2020 presidential election — doubting the accuracy of the results — and his vote against the CHIPS+ Act.

“He seems to vote against the interests of Idahoans at every turn,” she said.

Peterson also wants to keep public lands under federal control because it is the most cost-effective option for a state like Idaho with a small population and a large amount of wildlands, and because she said it keeps the land from being sold to private interests. Health care is also one of her top priorities, especially giving the federal Veterans Affairs agency every resource it needs to address the physical or mental health needs of veterans.

Regardless of what happens on Nov. 8, Peterson has committed to running for the congressional seat until 2026 — at least two more election cycles. She is also holding the last of four “Republican Town Halls” from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Kuna Community Center, where she encourages Republican voters to ask her questions and “tell me what they’re worried about when it comes to a Democrat.”

“We have been voting Republican in this state for over 20 years, and it’s not working out, because there’s no accountability for these people who stay in office because of a letter next to their name,” Peterson said. “I’m not going to change their way of life; I’m looking to protect their way of life.”

DARIAN DRAKE

Post Falls resident Darian Drake is quick to say that, as a candidate, he doesn’t matter.

As a Libertarian, Drake wants to make it clear that he is running for the seat as a civic duty, not because he wants power or authority. Under the “Donate” tab of his website, Drake directs people to donate to various organizations he thinks are worthy causes instead, because he also doesn’t want money.

He likens his philosophy to a quote from economist Thomas Sowell saying the last person to trust with power is someone who’s dying to have it, and the best person to wield power is someone who’s reluctant to do so.

“Politics sucks. I never want to be a politician,” Drake said. “The most I really wanted to do was something local that affected my community where actual liberty can be promoted. I never had any aspirations to run for Congress, I don’t want to rule over people, but again — civic duty.”

Drake, 49, entered the race as the Libertarian candidate in late August to replace Joe Evans, after internal party strife led Evans to drop out.

Drake has never run for public office before, and he had to send his candidate paperwork overnight by FedEx to make the deadline, but he thought it was important to run.

“I’ve talked enough about politics and what I think about individuals who are running things in D.C. that when this challenge came up, it was kind of a ‘put up or shut up’ sort of thing,” Drake said.

Drake lived primarily in California and Hawaii and moved to Post Falls more than five years ago. His main focus as a representative would be increasing individual rights and decreasing any infringements on those rights, including the right to bear arms. While he thinks the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 was an overreach by the federal government, he doesn’t want the practice of abortion to be illegal altogether, and he’s frustrated by Republicans and Democrats who he says fundraise off of one side of the issue or the other and don’t get anything done.

“I think abortions in general should not be illegal up to a certain point,” Drake said. “Once the fetus is viable outside the womb, there should be some line drawn.”

Drake also opposes any federal agency involvement in education and wants more school choice in Idaho. He also wants to return to the gold and silver standard of currency to move away from the U.S. Federal Reserve, stop all foreign involvement with the military and repeal any mandates around vaccinations or other medical treatment.

“The main reason for people to vote for me is because I would be the most disruptive individual that they’ve probably seen, and it would just be a way to send a message to them that we’re tired of your shenanigans … and we want something different,” Drake said. “But not something as different as Trump. I wouldn’t tweet as much as Trump, that’s for sure.”

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.