Idaho Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill says Sen. Russ Fulcher’s primary challenge to two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter didn’t sow disharmony in the Senate this year, helping the party heal from 2013′s bruising controversy over Otter’s state-run health insurance exchange.
Nevertheless, Hill finds himself with a ballot opponent for the first time in 13 elections over that very topic.
Scott O. Smith of Rexburg says Hill’s support of the state’s Your Health Idaho exchange prompted him to run — the same issue that has Fulcher aiming at Otter.
“He helped bring in the health exchange, which is a foothold for Obamacare,” Smith said Monday. “I think they should have just nullified that law because it’s unconstitutional. That’s about the extent of my issues.”
Hill is one of 15 Republican proponents of the state exchange who face challengers in the May 20 primary. Another 27 Republicans who voted for Otter’s House Bill 248 last year have no GOP opposition. Threats by foes of the exchange to flood the primary with candidates against Otter’s allies didn’t pan out, a surprising absence of competition reported in Sunday’s Statesman.
Smith said he’s also motivated by Hill’s having a free ride in all 12 elections since 2002. “I don’t think any seats should go unchallenged,” Smith said.
Hill, R-Rexburg, was appointed to succeed GOP Sen. Robert Lee in 2001 and ran without named ballot opposition in primary and general elections in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. In the 2006 general election, Hill had a write-in opponent, Dan Roberts, who received 720 votes to Hill’s 10,076.
Though facing his first serious challenge, Hill saluted Fulcher and his allies in the Legislature for not using the 2014 session as a platform to campaign.
“I want to stress how proud I am of the Legislature for trying to zero in on the issues at hand, rather than trying to create greater divides within our (Republican) caucus, without trying to bring up issues that have divided us in the past, without trying to make political statements or provide litmus tests,” Hill told me last week before the Legislature adjourned Thursday. “I’m just really proud.”
Fulcher, a five-term lawmaker from Meridian, is the Senate’s No. 4 Republican leader, the GOP caucus chairman. He and others opposed to the exchange and Common Core education standards continued to voice their opposition, but knowing they didn’t have the votes to overturn the majority didn’t engage in guerrilla legislative tactics.
Without the exchange, Fulcher said last week, he wouldn’t be running.
Hill hailed the restraint of Fulcher and others.
“There would have been ample opportunities to keep bringing up the things that had torn our caucus apart in the last couple of years,” Hill said. “And yet, neither the state health insurance exchange or Common Core — things that could have drawn us apart — didn’t seem to materialize.”
Added Hill: “There was a real need for our party to heal. I think we took a step in that direction.”
Smith, 44, said he respects Hill, 64. “He’s a fine man,” Smith said. But he faults Hill for not invoking the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in rejecting HB 248.
“I do plan on putting up a fight,” Smith said. “I am by no means convinced or have false delusions that I’m going to win, but why play the game if you don’t intend to win? My goal is to convince people that I’m ‘the other guy.’”
Smith publishes “The Local Review,” a free weekly newspaper mailed to every household in Madison County. Smith said the paper was founded two years ago, but sometimes goes without publishing because of a lack of advertising. “It’s been stop and go,” he said. The next edition is expected April 9. Smith also is a bridal show promoter, putting on four annual events in Idaho Falls and Rexburg. The next one is the Spring Bride and Prom Expo, April 11 and 12 in Idaho Falls.
Smith mostly grew up in Rexburg, after his father moved there to teach chemistry at Ricks College. Smith attended Ricks and earned a bachelor’s in English from BYU-Idaho. He is married to the former Laila Manuel; the couple met while Smith was serving an LDS mission in the Philippines. They have four daughters.