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Ammon Bundy, Stephen Heidt among unconventional field challenging Idaho Gov. Brad Little

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Idaho candidates for governor, clockwise from left: Idaho Gov. Brad Little, Republican; Stephen Heidt, Democrat; Ammon Bundy, independent. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun; Getty Images)

Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little faces a handful of unconventional challengers to his quiet bid to win a second term as Idaho’s governor.

The field includes Little, Democratic nominee Stephen Heidt, independent Ammon Bundy, Libertarian Paul Sand, Constitution Party nominee Chantyrose Davison and write-in candidate Lisa Marie.

Only Little, Heidt and Bundy met the Idaho Debates qualifications of maintaining an active campaign and engaging in campaign fundraising. However, organizers canceled the debate after Little again declined to debate his opponents, and Heidt later said he would not debate Bundy without Little doing so as well.

The governor Idahoans select at the polls Nov. 8 will face several important decisions and issues in 2023 — among them, abortion and reproductive rights policies, housing and affordable-living challenges across the state, public education funding, and how to plan and manage the fastest growing state in the country, according to the 2020 census. YOUR INB

STEPHEN HEIDT

Heidt is an underdog gubernatorial candidate who was surprised to find himself as the only Democrat who qualified for the May 17 primary election, after the perceived frontrunner, Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad, was excluded from the ballot. (Rognstad was still registered as a Republican at the candidate filing deadline.)

Heidt is an English as a second language teacher who worked for the Idaho Department of Correction for more than a decade before retiring from that job this year to stage his run for governor. Heidt also served in the U.S. Army National Guard and joined the Reserve 385th Combat Support hospital.

He and his wife, Alexandra, live in Marsing and raised five adult children.

Heidt ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Utah and Washington as a Republican in 1986, 1990 and 1994, he previously told the Sun.

Heidt is running for criminal justice reform, education improvements

Some of Heidt’s goals as governor would be to push for criminal justice reform, improve the state’s education system and fight for women’s privacy and reproductive rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Heidt supports President Joe Biden’s recent announcement granting pardons for thousands of people with federal offenses for simple marijuana possession. It’s one of key differences between Heidt and the incumbent, Little, who criticized Biden’s plan as “a nothing burger” and blanket pardon. Bundy has also called for reform for nonviolent criminal offenses.

Heidt, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he has never smoked marijuna and never intends to. But his experience in the prison system has shown him that an offense for marijuna possession can be a barrier to getting a job, continuing education, getting a place to live and supporting families and communities.

Heidt favors decriminalizing marijuana — he said he wouldn’t push for recreational legalization because he thinks the state is not ready — and allowing farmers to produce it.

“My concern is why are we spending millions of dollars a year to imprison people, when we should be treating it like alcohol,” Heidt told the Sun.

Instead, he views it as an opportunity to open up a new revenue source for the state.

Heidt also criticized Little for signing Idaho’s near-total abortion ban into law.

“I believe people should have the right to choose and have control over their health and health issues,” Heidt said. “I do not believe that the state was ever given a mandate to legislate holy law. That (abortion) is something a woman and her doctor need to decide.”

Reaching out to voters in Spanish and English

Heidt speaks Spanish and has used his language skills on the campaign trail in an attempt to reach more Idahoans who, he says, have been ignored by other campaigns.

He hopes to win the support of thousands of potential new voters who were not yet registered to vote.

During the Idaho Democratic Party’s convention this summer, Heidt spoke about his goals and policy positions in English and in Spanish. In recent weeks, Heidt toured Canyon County neighborhoods and knocked on doors in Caldwell specifically seeking out Hispanic and Latino residents. They talked to him about housing costs and barriers to home ownership, education and having a voice in the state, he told the Sun.

Based on the experience, Heidt said he doesn’t think any of the people he spoke with have ever had a conversation with someone running for governor.

“I asked them if they had any concerns, and typically they were education and property taxes,” Heidt told the Sun. “Education for non-English speakers was a big one. Part of the test for citizenship requires they’re capable of communicating, and education is a big (issue) for me.”

Heidt said the residents he met “were happy to find out there was a candidate as important — and maybe the next governor — that could speak Spanish.”

Heidt faces a steep uphill climb in the race for governor. In his September campaign finance report with the state, heading into the home stretch of the race, he reported having about $5,000 cash on hand and $14,377 in debt — from loans he made to his campaign. By comparison, Little reported having more than $377,000 cash on hand in September, along with $600,000 in preexisting loans or debt . Bundy reported having $34,000 cash on hand in September, along with $116,000 in loans and debt. Bundy’s September campaign finance report indicates he has loaned his campaign $146,00 since June 2021 and paid $23,000.

Heidt told the Sun in October that the previous month on the campaign trail had been slower than he expected, but he was hoping to mount a big push toward Election Day, including visiting college campuses.

Heidt said his campaign advisors feel that Heidt could have an opening if Bundy splits the conservative vote with Little.

AMMON BUNDY

An activist and Emmett businessman who works in the transportation fleet industry, Ammon Bundy officially announced he was running for governor (seeking the Republican nomination at the time) in June 2021.

Bundy, who moved to Idaho about seven years ago, is the founder of the People’s Rights Network, a nationwide anti-government group that, among other things, protested COVID-19 restrictions.

Bundy says he wants to cut taxes and government programs

Now on the ballot as an independent candidate, Bundy is running to Little’s right politically. Bundy has pledged to repeal Idaho’s personal property tax and personal income tax, but he would leave the sales tax in place. Bundy said he would also eliminate all exceptions that allow for abortion and bring all federal lands in Idaho under state control.

“I know that securing liberty for the people of Idaho is what I was built for,” Bundy said during his 2021 kickoff event in Meridian, the Sun previously reported.

But it is unclear how he plans to carry out his goals, or how thoroughly he has considered the policies he is pitching to voters.

If Bundy were elected and repealed the individual income tax, that would cut about 42% of all revenue from the state’s general fund budget. In fiscal year 2022, individual income taxes were the state’s largest source of revenue, accounting for $2.6 billion of the overall revenue total of $6.2 billion, according to the Idaho Division of Financial Management.

Such cuts would greatly transform Idaho’s government and the services that Idahoans use.

In a press release issued Tuesday, Bundy said he would diminish welfare programs in Idaho, citing food stamps, housing assistance, publicly funded health care, “free education” and transportation as what Bundy called staples of a socialist agenda.

“As governor, I will diminish the social welfare programs of the state of Idaho and push the responsibility of charitable services back to the local community, churches and family, where it belongs,” Bundy wrote in the press release.

In a separate announcement this week, Bundy also promised to help pay for people who disagree with him to move out of the state.

In recent weeks, Bundy has sent mixed signals using his social media channels. In a since-deleted Oct. 9 tweet, he said he would issue an executive order stating life begins at conception, to ban IUDs — intrauterine devices, a form of birth control. On the following day, he tweeted, “Hey what is your understanding of IUD’s? I am looking for truth and am having a hard time finding it. Not a surprise, right? Some say that an IUD blocks or kills the sperm, others say it works after conception. What is your understanding on the matter?”

IUDs are among the most effective forms of contraception. There are two main types of IUD: hormonal and copper. Both types prevent pregnancy, in different ways. They can prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg; prevent ovulation, which means there is no egg to fertilize; make it harder for sperm to pass into the uterus at all; and prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

Bundy, seeking top seat in Idaho government, is anti-government

Bundy and his family have had multiple conflicts with state and federal law enforcement officials over the past eight years. In 2020, Bundy was arrested at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise multiple times and given a one-year ban from the statehouse. He was later held in contempt for violating a judge’s orders to perform community service. In September 2022, Bundy failed to show up for a different court hearing and failed to comply with a different judge’s orders, in a lawsuit brought by St. Luke’s Health System, the Sun previously reported.

In 2016, Ammon Bundy helped lead an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. Bundy was found not guilty of charges stemming from that occupation, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

In 2014, Bundy participated in an armed standoff with federal agents at his father Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch in a dispute over the Bundys not paying required federal grazing fees. A judge later dismissed felony conspiracy and firearms charges against Cliven, Ammon and a brother, Ryan Bundy, because prosecutors had withheld evidence.

Although he initially said he would run as a Republican, Bundy was rebuked by former Idaho Republican Party Chairman Tom Luna. Bundy later decided to drop out of the Republican primary and run as an independent.

In March, Boise State Public Radio reported Bundy has paid thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to a company he owns.

Efforts to reach Bundy and his campaign team were unsuccessful.

BRAD LITTLE

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a 68-year-old rancher and longtime Republican politician from Emmett, is running for his second term as governor. Little previously served as the lieutenant governor for 10 years. Like his father, David, Little also served in the Idaho Senate.

Throughout his first term in office as governor — particularly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread changes to daily life — Little made his gubernatorial focal point improving public education in Idaho. He pushed for an expansion of the state’s literacy program, saying not enough Idaho children in kindergarten through third grade were where they should be with reading and literacy skills. He also pushed for funding increases in education and raising teacher pay.

Little said that focus hasn’t changed, and the work isn’t done. His goal is for Idaho to become and remain the place where children get a good education and choose to live in Idaho as adults.

One of his priorities for a second term is implementing the education funding components of House Bill 1, the roughly $1 billion tax rebate, tax cut and education funding law Little signed following the Sept. 1 special session of the Idaho Legislature.

Although the Idaho Legislature approved directing more than $410 million to education annually — including $330 million per year in sales tax revenue earmarked for public education — the details of how and where the money would be allocated were left to be decided when state budgets are set next year.

Little said he is adamant that that funding be treated as new money, in addition to the existing funding already approved for schools and career-technical education courses.

“You know my priority has been competitive teacher pay and literacy and career-technical (programs) and more money for higher education,” Little told the Sun in an interview Tuesday. “That’s where I am starting from.”

Little is running on his experience

With historic turnover expected in the Idaho Legislature, where 40 of the 105 members could be new in 2023, Little said it will take leadership and relationship skills to implement the new funding.

Several of the key figures in the discussions won’t be known until after the Nov. 8 elections. Whatever happens in the election, there will be big changes coming to the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Senate Education Committee.

“My job is to sit down with them and shepherd through what I believe the intent of House Bill 1 is,” Little said. “If you listened to the debate during the special session, everybody was clear about how we want to support education and have a better education system.”

Little said his accomplishments include guiding the state to reopen after the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, leading the state to back-to-back years of record budget surpluses, pushing for the elimination of business regulations, cutting taxes and working with legislators to pass four years in increases in public education funding that bolstered teacher pay and expanded literacy programming.

“You cannot help but connect the dots on deregulating small business and job formation,” Little told the Sun. “Small business is where things really happen.”

One of the barriers to Little’s goal of having children grow up in Idaho and remain in the state to start families and build careers is high housing costs and rent.

Little said he takes the long view and pushes for investments in roads, bridges and infrastructure and further deregulation of businesses.

“It saddens me that kids get out of school and can’t afford to buy a house,” Little said. “I want to be supportive of communities that want to grow, but you can’t put in housing if you don’t have roads and sewer.”

However, the state’s lawmakers have worked to prevent measures to address housing costs and housing insecurity. For example, the Idaho House passed a bill last session that — if it hadn’t died in the Senate — would have blocked local governments from regulating rental fees. Several years ago, the Legislature passed a law to ban local regulation of homes used as short-term rentals. And state law has long forbid rent control by local governments.

In both the May primary election and the upcoming general election, Little declined to debate his opponents in the traditional Idaho Debates that are televised statewide. Little and his campaign staff said his track record is clear and Idahoans know where he stands.

“Gov. Little is confident the people of Idaho know his strong track record of cutting taxes for families and businesses and directing historic investments to Idaho’s children, roads and critical water projects,” Little’s campaign manager, Hayden Rogers, said in a written statement, the Sun previously reported.

The Idaho Press Club said Little was the first incumbent governor seeking re-election to decline to participate in the Idaho Debates in more than 30 years.

Little advanced to the November general election by winning an eight-candidate contested Republican primary election with a field that included outgoing Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

Little and his wife, Idaho First Lady Teresa Little, raised two adult children and live in Emmett.

What does Idaho’s governor do?

Idaho’s governor is the supreme executive of the state and the commander in chief of the Idaho National Guard. The governor has the power to declare an emergency. Idaho’s governor appoints people to a variety of offices, commissions and positions, from the Idaho State Board of Education to the Idaho Fish and Commission to county commissions and legislative seats that become vacant between elections.

According to the Idaho Constitution, the governor is responsible for seeing that “the laws are faithfully executed,” and has the power to veto bills passed by the Idaho Legislature. The governor delivers an annual speech and report to the Idaho Legislature called the State of the State address, submits a yearly budget request to legislators and is the only person who has the authority to call a special session of the Idaho Legislature. However, a proposed amendment to the Idaho Constitution known as Senate Joint Resolution 102, or SJR 102, is on the November general election ballot and would give the Idaho Legislature the authority to call itself back into session without the approval of the governor if at least a 60% majority of both chambers of the Idaho Legislature vote in favor of going into a special session.

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.