A longtime military veteran is challenging one of the Legislature’s main budget-writers for a House seat representing the Magic Valley.
During Tuesday’s Republican primary, Reggy Sternes and Rep. Maxine Bell will clash for House Seat A in legislative District 25.
Bell has served 14 two-year House terms, and serves as co-chairwoman for the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes the school budgets every year.
Bell said one of her main goals is to oversee responsible state budgets as Idaho continues to recover from the Great Recession. With her former budget co-chairman Sen. Dean Cameron’s departure from the Legislature in 2015, and her current co-chairwoman Sen. Shawn Keough facing a tough primary in North Idaho, Bell said stability atop the committee is more important now than ever.
“There is so much unfinished business I thought that perhaps one more term to kind stabilize those things we have moved carefully into after the downturn of 2008-09,” Bell said.
Sternes has served in the military for 22 years, deployed twice to Afghanistan and earned the rank of U.S. Navy commander. He has always been interested in government and politics, but his interest increased watching political debates in recent years. After checking up on his local lawmakers, Sternes said he was disappointed with their rankings from the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation, which prompted his run.
“They taught us at the military if you have a problem with something and you bring it up, you better be wiling to have a solution,” Sternes said.
His top three issues are the health care, education and the debate over Idaho lands and federal lands.
“You will either love me or hate me, but you won’t be ambiguous with me,” Sternes said.
No Democrat or third-party challengers appear on the ballot in this race, but Rudy Cordova of Jerome is running as a Democratic write-in candidate.
Republican primary: District 25 House, Seat A
Maxine Bell (www.maxinebell.us)
Reggy A. Sternes (www.sternesforidaho.com)
How long have you lived in your legislative district?
Bell: Moved to the Jerome area at age 11.
Sternes: Moved to the Jerome area in 1976.
Bell: Degree in library science from College of Southern Idaho.
Sternes: Master’s of public health, Oregon State University, bachelor’s degree in business administration and management operations, Idaho State University, bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Idaho.
Bell: Served 28 years in the House. Previously served as a local precinct committeewoman with the Republican Party.
Sternes: First time seeking elected office.
Who can vote: Registered voters within District 25, which includes Jerome County and parts of Twin Falls County. Check this map for details.
Election date: May 17.
Education connection: Bell is co-chairwoman of the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
Do you support the 2016-17 public school budget passed by the Legislature this year? Why or why not?
Bell: “I think it was an excellent budget for the simple reason of the time that was put in and the dedication and talent we had working on it with (Idaho Falls Republican Rep.) Wendy Horman and Paul Headlee (from the Legislative Services Office) and all those at the table from both parties. As I said before, the fact is they had a blueprint with the task force. They weren’t just deciding that this will be a nice thing to do. We had a plan and we stayed behind it. That STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative — that is something that will come along and make a difference and that takes funding. The issue is basically we had a governor, the gentleman on the second floor, who has a lot of vision and a great vision on (the education budget). He came out considerably ahead of probably what I thought I could get passed on the House floor. There are some concerns still on the economy, and you can understand that.”
Sternes: “I didn’t dig into it that deeply. What I do know is I think Idaho’s budget raised overall by 4 or 5 percent. When it comes to education, I know I would try to fund teachers better and try to fund colleges better. I’d like to see a voucher system. I think a voucher system would start controlling the cost of education. I think in order to truly have Idaho perform in the future, we have to have teachers as coaches that are going to win. If they don’t win, they need to be replaced, especially administrators. The system that came out and assesses teachers is nuts. It’s too complicated. If you know anything about a bell-shaped curve, you can’t tell me all of the scores were in the highest standard deviation. That doesn’t work on large populations or large sample sizes.”
Explain why you support or oppose implementing all of Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education recommendations over the next three years.
Bell: “The fact is, that task force is best activity on K-12 I’ve ever been around. You have somebody put out a roadmap that you can get behind to put policy in place. That’s the right way to do it. I think that’s the only way to do it, and it has made it so much nicer. They had all the different entities of people working in education day after day. They’re working with other people and making that policy, and I felt pretty comfortable with it. As far as I’m concerned, with a budget of that magnitude and the changes that are taking place, that is the only way to do that budget. We’re past the days where we just simply put out some technology money, or whatever. And, of course, the career ladder is totally different than the steps and lanes (from the old salary grid). They’re continuing to refine those (task force recommendations) two years later. It’s a five-year plan, and I doubt we will be where they want to be in the fifth year.”
Sternes: “To me, Common Core might as well be called Obama Core. The reason why is all that bureaucracy and regulation solves nothing. I’ve lived 22 years of active duty service with regulations. When you force people to do something, it gets rid of innovation and creativity. It’s just another requirement from the state. I think Common Core needs to go away because there is an agenda behind it, for one. Two, it’s more regulation and centralized regulation will not solve anything. What works is people making individual choices. People who are accountable, that works. You have to have accountability, that will work out there. People need to not get promoted, not get their bonuses and need to lose jobs. If you’re not accountable, why would the school system be any different than any other job out there? In the military, you get promoted or you get out.”
State leaders are promoting a goal of having 60 percent of the Idaho’s young adults hold a postsecondary degree or certificate by the year 2020. What is your position on this goal?
Bell: “I think you have to have goals. Otherwise it’s that old saw about if don’t have goals you don’t really know where you’re going. I do know that if you’re going to place that type of goal on people — on school districts and school boards — you have to give them the resources to succeed. As long as we continue to provide resource to them, then I think you can expect that. If it gets to the point where we have to back up or we have to go at ease, so to speak, on resources, I think it will be more difficult for them. The resources have to be there for that goal to work.”
Sternes: “It’s good to have a goal for sure. I have three degrees. It’s like ‘Really, I spent all that time doing that?’ Lots of jobs in the state of Idaho don’t require a bachelor’s degree; they require a technical education. That’s the key that’s in there. The free market should decide who goes where. If you want to go to college, go to college. If you want to go to trade school, go to trade school. I’m in favor of that (60 percent goal), but hesitantly in favor of that. Really, it should be an issue of individual choice. I’ve got to tell you I am hesitantly in favor of it because when you’re young a lot of times you don’t understand the choices you have in front of you. As long as we don’t push them all into academic four-year schools.”
This year the Legislature passed two bills into law and set aside $9.1 million in new funding in an attempt to improve the literacy rates of struggling readers in kindergarten through third grade. What is your position on this effort?
Bell: “I think, there again, it comes down to the resources, which sounds a little simplistic. On the other hand, that was the right thing to do — focusing on third grade to make sure they can read. By the time we get through with those different (policy and budgets) pieces it will be about $14 million. I believe every dime of that will be spent wisely and will make a difference. They need for us to make sure we are providing resources for teachers at those grade levels. You’re either a parent or a child or a grandparent and everybody has a stake in good education and everyone is concerned about it.”
Sternes: “First off, I know money doesn’t solve anything. It’s just a resource. If you need a desk, go buy a desk. The idea to throw money at something to try to increase reading levels is probably based on some really great outcomes they want. We want good outcomes, we want kids to learn at a certain level. I’m hesitant to throw money at something and think it will improve reading scores. Yeah, there are some ratios in classes where more individual attention can really help. One issue I would rather instead focus on is really going back to thinking we need school choice. The free market should be pushing parents to be choosing where their children should go. I don’t think money is the answer. When you start targeting money for stuff, you start picking winners and losers. I’m in favor of it, but not in favor of it. When you start raising money above the rate of inflation, I wonder if it is being spent well.”
- Check Bell’s voting record on education issues by scrolling through Idaho EdNews’ Bill Tracker.
- May 11: District 22 Senate, Den Hartog vs. Porter.
- May 10: District 15 House Seat B, Beck vs. McDonald.
- May 5: District 30 House Seat B, Horman vs. Neal.
- May 4: District 14 House Seat B, DeMordaunt vs. Jones.
- April 26: District 34 House Seat A, Nate vs. Ricks.
- April 20: District 9 House Seat B, Boyle vs. Dolton.
- April 18: District 9 House Seat A, Kerby vs. Stephens.
- April 11: District 4 House Seat A, Macomber vs. Malek.
- April 5: EdNews’ campaign kickoff article.