District 26 State House candidates talk about housing issues
BLAINE COUNTY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Election Day is upon us, and one of the District 26 State House races has a former mayor who is a Democrat, facing off against a retired college instructor who is a Republican. In this race how each candidate plans to address the ongoing housing crisis in the Wood River Valley might decide it.
Democratic candidate Rep. Ned Burns said experience matters in this race. He has one year under his belt as a state legislator, after being appointed to finish out the remaining term of former Idaho State House Rep. Muffy Davis. Davis is now a Blaine County Commissioner. With District 26 now encompassing Jerome County he feels he has the skill set to bridge the gap between conservative and progressive voters.
“I think being Mayor of Bellevue truly set me up for that. Bellevue is a more purple town than Hailey or Ketchum specifically,” said Burns.” I think I did a really good job making sure everyone in Bellvue knew what we were trying to do, and we had pretty good buy-in from the whole town.”
However, Republican challenger Mike Pohanka feels his time as an instructor at the College of Southern Idaho has prepared him for the challenges of a diverse voting district.
“I had students across the board with different beliefs, and one thing is I’m always there for people, always there for my students no matter who they were, " said Pohanka. “If they are in Blaine County, Lincoln County, Jerome County I will represent the people all the same.”
The retired college instructor has lived in Idaho all his life and Jerome County for more than 30 years. Pohanka said his decision to run is out of a desire to serve the people of his community, and he sees himself as a public servant and not a politician.
Additionally, he said one of the common concerns he is hearing from voters is inflation.
“The price of gas. The price of groceries, and the cost of housing, Just trying to provide for their families,” Pohanka said.
Up in the Wood River Valley, there is a crisis when it comes to affordable workforce housing, with many local workers being priced out of the market with skyrocketing prices for homes and rentals. The situation is something that touches Burns personally.
“It’s super stressful. I got friends that have to surf from couch to couch, or camp out at somebody’s yard,” said Burns. “To have housing insecurity is super, super stressful.”
Burns said he worked hard this past legislative session to make sure the workforce housing funds got passed this year and is advocating that the state continue to fund it.
“The state appropriated $50 million toward it this last session, and honestly Blaine County could use all $50 million of those dollars. That is how behind the eight ball we are,” said Burns.
Pohanka said if elected he would like to explore a private-public partnership to address the housing issue. Like finding individuals who are willing to sell land or property below market value.
“Maybe the state can find a way to where that individual gets a tax write-off on that donation,” Pohanka said.
Additionally, he said other solutions might be finding contractors who will do in-kind services to lower the cost of services and make the homes more affordable.
Many voters in the Wood River Valley feel short-term rentals are the “root cause” of the housing crisis in Blaine County. Many groups in the Wood River Valley would like to see something done at the state level to limit the number of short-term rentals that can operate in an area. It’s a topic both men will have to deal with if elected. Pohanka said it’s a solution worth looking into, but it is also a tricky one.
“Most people don’t like the government telling them what to do, and would figure out an alternative for that(short-term rental),” Pohanka said.
If elected Burns said some other issues he would like to focus on are water infrastructure, property tax relief, and quality of education. He feels this election cycle he is going to win over some voters in traditionally conservative Jerome County.
“The folks we have talked to down in Jerome, out knocking on doors and canvassing folks, are very excited to actually have a choice. It’s been a long time since there has been a Democrat on the ticket down in Jerome County, and a lot of people are really excited about it,” Burns said.
Pohanka said if elected he would like to also focus on water issues and infrastructure as well as education. He would also like to address transportation and public safety. He said right now he feels good about his chances in this race based on what he is hearing from people who have already voted or are preparing to vote on Election Day.
“I feel positive about it. just the people I have been talking to whether it’s up north in Lincoln County or Jemoe County just giving me the thumbs up,” Pohanka said.
Burns said he didn’t want to put a percentage on his chances and “jinx” himself, but he said he feels “decent” about his chances of winning. Additionally, he said at around 5 pm or 6 PM on Election Day he is going to turn off his phone.
“I’m going to go into the mountains with my wife and stay in a cabin. We are going to read books and watch movies, and we are going to figure it out in the morning,” said Burns. “She(wife) has sacrificed a whole lot this election season. I owe her one night of undivided attention.”
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