Republican challenger thinks District 26 senate race will be a close one
Incumbent Michelle Stennett is looking for another successful reelection campaign
HAILEY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - In the District 26 Senate race, Democratic incumbent Michelle Stennett is looking to get re-elected for a sixth term, but her Republican challenger is feeling pretty confident because he thinks voters are looking for more diversity in the district.
District 26 may be the most diverse district in the state. It represents four counties: Blaine, Gooding, Lincoln and Camas. The district has large pockets of both Republican and Democratic voters, even some Independent/moderate minded voters.
“The diversity of my district has been quite a challenge,” Stennett said with a chuckle. “I have met some remarkable people. I am a people person, and that’s what I enjoy the most."
Stennett has been the senator for District 26 since 2010 and took over the last term for her husband when he died after a long battle with brain cancer at the age of 54. Her late husband, Clint Stennett, served as the Democratic minority leader in the Idaho State Senate from 1999 to 2009.
“I am honored to represent the same area. We had similar politics,” Stennett said. “I was really grateful to the community for how nurturing and kind they were to us, and I wanted to be able to give back. So after his passing, I wanted to run and represent the district."
Stennett has a background in natural resources and a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies. which she said suits her district perfectly.
“We do everything from (Idaho) fish and game to water issues to public lands that is my background, so that is probably one of my bigger strengths,” Stennett said.
Before getting into politics, she said for about a decade she worked with conservation groups and also worked abroad on water and sanitation projects in developing countries. But she feels her real strength in the district is her leadership skills. Stennett is the senate minority leader, and she is the chair of several interim committees that are regional: Pacific NorthWest Economic Region and the Council of State Governments West.
“I have been in leadership the entire time I have been in the senate,” Stennett said. “And that is that consensus building, diplomacy, trying to come together to make good policy, and bring people to the table."
Stennett said if re-elected some of her goals are addressing minimum wage, so Idaho can compete with neighboring states for a skilled workforce and new business. She said she is working with the workforce development council, and Stennett said the state has 40,000 positions in the next four years that employers need a skilled workforce for.
“I think we should be very proactive about offering something higher than what it is and being very cognizant about the cost of living,” Stennett said. “Our housing has become much more expensive if you can find it at all in many areas."
Stennett said she is always talking and focusing on economics and infrastructure. She thinks it is hugely important, and she has been talking about them for the last eight or nine years and will continue to focus on them if re-elected.
“I think we need to do so much for road and bridge repair, for water and sewer systems, school systems, healthcare. Those are all infrastructure,” Stennett said.
However, her Republican opponent Eric Parker thinks District 26 doesn’t have enough diversity in its representation to represent its diverse constituency of voters. The district’s two representatives, Sally Toone and Muffy Davis are Democrats like Stennett.
“One of the things I heard is the southern part of the district isn’t being represented, and I can see how that can be,” Parker said.
The Hailey resident and father of four said one of the reasons he is running is because he didn’t want Stennett to run unopposed, and he believes voters should have a choice.
He also said he thinks being a working-class individual in Idaho brings a different point of view to politics and to the district. Parker works as an electrician.
“Having four children in the school system, dealing with the things we are dealing with right now, I think I may have a better understanding than my opponent does of some of the issues normal Idahoans are facing,” Parker said.
He also said District 26 needs bipartisan representation, and he believes his opponent has different stances at the capital and acts differently, compared to when she comes back to the district.
“I believe my opponent (Stennett) comes home and says ‘I can’t get anything done because of the mean, bad Republicans,’” Parker said. “And I feel that if we send somebody that is a member of the majority party, we may be able to get something done for this district.”
Parker said he isn’t a novice when it comes to politics. He is the president and founder of “Not for Profit,” and his group has volunteers that work in the capital every session.
“We look at the legislation before it reaches committee, and we look at the language in that proposed bill,” Parker said. “We look at the language, and see if it is vague and if it can open up Idahoans to constitutional violation."
Parker also said he isn’t the “traditional Republican”. He said he is open-minded and likes to think outside the box. Like Stennett, he is open to a discussion about raising the minimum wage. Parker said he would also like to see that state pass industrial hemp.
“I find it extremely ironic because we are an agricultural (state),” Parker said. “It’s legal federally, and it could bring new tax revenue to our state."
If elected, Parker said one thing he would like to address is how the state is running right now.
He believes with COVID-19 going on there is an issue with the district representation not being listened to. He said he believes right now the state is being run by the executive branch.
“I am curious how January is going to look," he said. “If we are still going to still be under executive emergency, or if we will have a truly representative government in place.”
However, Stennett said she prides herself on being “a huge communicator” and she sees herself as a centrist and not partisan to one party.
“Once you become a senator or representative you are supposed to be representing everyone in your district,” Stennett said.
She also said she enjoys working with the people in the senate, and even though they may not agree on all the issues, about 80% of what they do is bipartisan.
“It’s the 20% that you hear — that we disagree on, but we probably should — just because of our geography, our religions, economics, and all of that,” Stennett said.
The election is on Nov. 3, and Parker said he feels really good about his chances, but if he doesn’t win he said he would consider running again.
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