Cristina McNeil, candidate for Congress

Editor’s note: A wide-open and critical election year is looming in Idaho in 2018. This is the 12th of a periodic series of interviews with candidates for state and federal office — with an emphasis on education topics.

Cristina McNeil is worried about the Trump administration’s direction on education — its emphasis on school choice, and its proposals to cut spending.

Cutting education spending could be “catastrophic,” especially for the more than 40 Idaho school districts operating on a four-day calendar, McNeil said in an interview his week.

McNeil, a Boise real estate agent, is running in the 1st Congressional District on the Democratic ticket. She will face James Vandermaas of Eagle and Michael W. Smith of Post Falls in Tuesday’s primary election.

Idaho receives $264 million a year in federal K-12 funding — a line item that would be in jeopardy if the Trump administration gets its way. In February, the White House proposed cutting $3.6 billion, or 5.3 percent, from the Education Department’s budget.

McNeil says the White House, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, seem to be oblivious to the struggles facing schools, especially in rural four-day districts.

She says the federal government should take on a larger role in supporting education. As a single mother, she has seen the value of pre-K — and if elected, she said she would push for increased federal funding for early education. In her job, McNeil sees many young adults who put off buying a home because they are saddled with student loan debt — so she promises to push for lower interest federal loans, and refinancing options for graduates.

However, McNeil says the state should brace for the possible loss of federal education dollars, and take steps to make up the difference. She supports legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal use — so Idaho can recoup the tax dollars that are now collected in other states.

McNeil chides current 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, for offering no solutions on school safety. McNeil doesn’t support arming teachers — an idea now allowed under Idaho law, and a centerpiece of President Trump’s school safety plan. McNeil says she supports Second Amendment rights, but she also says she would support common-sense restrictions to make schools safer. For example, she sees no reason why any hunter would need access to an AR-15 assault rifle.

A native of Mexico City, McNeil is passionate about the debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects an estimated 3,100 young Idaho residents from deportation. Trump has threatened to eliminate DACA, a move that McNeil says would only threaten young people who came to the United States with their families, and know no other homeland.

“It’s against the values of the American people to terminate DACA or undermine DACA,” she said.

Immigration issues introduced McNeil to the political process. She moved to Idaho in 2003, eight years after immigrating to the United States, and soon became involved with the Idaho Community Action Network, a nonprofit group that focuses on social, racial and economic issues. With ICAN, McNeil volunteered on issues such as immigration reform and Medicaid expansion.

McNeil says immigration is a key issue in her congressional race. So is health care. As a 51-year-old who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for 30 years, she says she sympathizes with people who have to make tough choices about affording treatment or prescription drugs.

And after years as a volunteer lobbyist, McNeil wants to play a different role. “I need to be seated in the right place.”


Congressional candidates:

Russ Fulcher: ‘I’m not a slash-and-burn kind of guy’

David Leroy: ‘We are making false promises to ourselves in many quarters’

Luke Malek: ‘We need every dollar that we are putting into education’

Christy Perry: ‘We need to break the cycle of poverty’

Michael Snyder: ‘A little flame has started. “Can we fan it into a fire?’

James Vandermaas: ‘There’s so much untapped potential at this point because so many people are undereducated’

Gubernatorial candidates:

Tommy Ahlquist: ‘It’s creating that clarity’

A.J. Balukoff: ‘The thing we haven’t done is listen to the educators’

Paulette Jordan: ‘We have a lot of educating to do’

Raul Labrador: ‘If we’re going to take some of the credit then I think we need to take some of the blame at the governor’s office’

Brad Little: ‘We have an obligation to explain how important education is today’


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday