POCATELLO -- Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, believes he compiled a record of fiscal responsibility during his first term in office and that the experience he gained during a long career as a financial advisor helped the state make wise budgeting decisions.
His Democratic opponent for Legislative District 28-A in the Nov. 6 election, Steve Landon, assures voters that his decades of experience as a union leader have prepared him for the position, and made him aware of issues that must be addressed affecting Idaho workers.
Landon, who was involved in organized labor throughout much of a 43-year career with J.R. Simplot Co.'s maintenance department, believes the state ranks too high for its percentage of minimum-wage jobs.
"We've got to be able to attract jobs paying good, living wages that also pay benefits for people," said Landon, who came up short in a prior bid for state representative in 2016.
He'd also like the state to get a handle on rising medical costs. As a union leader, Landon said health care became the "primary bargaining issue" and "ate up everything we did," leaving little left over for wage adjustments and other needs.
In addition to representing Simplot workers, Landon held broader union leadership positions, such as serving on the board of directors of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union and on the advisory board for Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers.
Armstrong, who retired from a career at Merrill Lynch before joining the state Legislature, would like to see the state build on its recent success in investing in education. The state is nearing the end of a five-year plan to boost Idaho teacher salaries, which Armstrong believes has prevented animosity and made "everybody happier."
"We need to come up with another five-year plan and continue to grow that in the same manner we have so far," Armstrong said.
Landon also supports increased investment in education, believing Idaho shouldn't continue to place near the bottom among states for the amount it spends to educate each child.
Both candidates believe a proposition on the election ballot to expand Medicaid coverage will pass. Landon is an ardent supporter of the expansion. Armstrong has mixed feelings.
Armstrong described the expansion as an "unprecedented move in the history of Idaho to get healthy, able-bodied people on Medicaid rolls" and an "unhealthy position for the state to take." he fears that the expansion would be "open-ended" in that costs could escalate rapidly.
But he added, "I'm absolutely willing to make it work if it's the voice of the people."
Armstrong opposes another election proposition, which would allow for the resumption of gambling using machines that take wagers and pool betting on historic horse races. He argued the proposition "doesn't have anything to do with horse racing" and would legalize glorified slot machines. Landon, however, supports allowing gambling on historic horse races, believing it would bring back lost jobs.
It's likely that the Legislature will debate a repeal of the state's tax on groceries during the next session. Brad Little, the Republican candidate for governor, has campaigned on a grocery-tax repeal.
Landon said he would support repealing the grocery tax, but only if the lost funding doesn't come at the expense of education. Armstrong opposes a repeal, believing the state's existing grocery tax credit would better serve most residents.
The legalization of marijuana is another issue that may surface during the coming session. Landon supports legalizing the drug for medical purposes, but believes the first step should be for the federal government to reclassify it. Armstrong supports the concept of legalized medical marijuana but fears it may be difficult to "draw a line in the sand" so that it's not also legalized for recreational use.
When asked about some of his proudest accomplishments in office, Armstrong described how he got legislation passed to help a Chubbuck-based company that insures municipalities avoid having to maintain unnecessary coinsurance. He also worked on a bill that would have increased liability coverage requirements for Idaho drivers.
Armstrong believes the election boils down to a choice between his preference to seek fiscally responsible solutions and his opponent's desire to "spend money" to solve problems.
Landon argues the state is on a "downward spiral" and needs to bring in new perspectives. He believes Armstrong hasn't "worked hard enough' to effect change.
"The biggest problem we have in the State of Idaho is we have a supermajority," Landon said. "They don't have to have any discussion. They just need to decide what they want to do, and they do it."