An emphasis on K-12 education isn’t the only thing this year’s District 34 Republican candidates have in common — they also are co-workers.
Rep. Ronald Nate, R-Rexburg, said he was surprised when he heard that fellow Brigham Young University-Idaho employee Doug Ricks filed for candidacy in the upcoming May 17 legislative primaries.
“I feel like things have gone so well that I honestly wasn’t expecting anyone else to run,” said Nate, an economics professor at the LDS-owned school.
Despite an “overall respect” for Nate, Ricks took aim at the incumbent’s voting record, which he said varies from “East Idaho values.”
“I think he’s voting to pretty much get a good score with the Idaho Freedom Foundation,” Ricks said. “He’s voted against recent education and military spending bills.”
Nate is currently tied with Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, for the top spot on the list of all 105 legislators whose voting records are rated by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative research group headquartered in Boise.
“I just don’t think the Idaho Freedom Index is an effective measurement system for voters to use,” Ricks added.
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Ricks is a political newcomer who has worked as a farmer and in business, opening what he called the “first all-computer store in Rexburg” in 1987, where he worked “closely with school leaders to integrate technology into classrooms.” In 1999, he found his way to BYU-Idaho, where he now works as the assistive technology director.
Though improving education is high on his list of priorities, Ricks said that strengthening the economy via “economic development through lower taxes” must happen first.
“We are losing teachers to Wyoming because they can pay them there,” he said. “When the economy does better, education gets more. We have to start there.”
Nate said he’s running again because he enjoyed his first stint in office more than he thought he would.
“It’s rewarding to hear citizens concerns and to help reach better results,” he said. “There’s simply more work to do and I want to be a part of it.”
Despite his challenger’s criticisms, Nate is proud of his high rating on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Index.
“I do rank highly on the Freedom Index,” he said, “but I rank highly on the conservative end. The freedom index promotes lower taxes, limited government and constitutional principles, which match my principles.”
Nate also argued that there are “different reasons to vote for or against a specific bill,” adding that he votes to enable “parents, districts and students to have the flexibility to make the best choices on their own.” He also votes to “funnel funds toward teachers.”
“Schools are currently overburdened with reporting and assessments requirements,” he said. “We have to learn to respond to specific districts’ needs and promote autonomy for them.”
“We’ve seen a 15-percent increase in education in a two-year period, by far the biggest increase in any budget in the state, and I supported the money,” Nate said.
Nate voted against four of the seven pieces that make up the 2016-17 education budget, including the administrators, facilities, teachers, educational services for the def and blind and the central services divisions. He voted for the teachers, operations and the children’s division pieces of the budget.
Though he grew up in Utah, Nate has worked at BYU-Idaho for 15 years. He described himself as a “family guy” with a political philosophy best summed up by the Idaho Constitution.
“I’m all for limited government and freedom of individuals,” he said. “We should look at legislation and ask whether it’s constitutional, economically efficient and morally sound.”
Nate’s first term in office was underscored by his proposal to amend the so-called “Blaine Amendment,” a section of the Idaho Constitution which prohibits public funding of schools, colleges or universities “controlled by any church.” Nate justified his proposal by claiming that it would protect those wanting to use state-funded scholarships to attend parochial schools. The proposal, critics argued, would open the way for a state voucher system aimed at funneling state funds to church schools.
Though Nate’s proposal gained little traction during the 2016 legislative session, Ricks said he is “open to the idea of a school choice voucher system and perhaps the option to allow the Opportunity Scholarship to be awarded to religious schools.” Ricks added that a move toward school-choice vouchers would need to be properly vetted through the State Department of Education.
“The last thing Idaho should do is throw a curve ball that could potentially hit funding hard for struggling public schools,” Ricks said. “Choice and competition is usually a good thing and perhaps might even help out with overcrowded schools, but I think we would have to ease into it slowly.”
Republican Primary: District 34, House Seat A
Challenger Doug Ricks (dougricks.com)
Incumbent Ron Nate (www.facebook.com/nate4idaho)
How long have you lived in your legislative district?
Ricks: Grew up in Idaho, lived in Rexburg his whole life.
Nate: Grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. Moved to Rexburg in 2001.
Ricks: Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies, BYU-Idaho.
Nate: Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, University of Utah; M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics, University of Connecticut.
Ricks: Madison County Republican Party Chairman.
Nate: Served one, two-year term in Idaho House. First elected in 2014.
Who Can Vote: Registered voters within Legislative District 34, which includes Rexburg.
Ricks: Instructor at BYU-Idaho, specializing in technological assistance for students with disabilities.
Nate: Economics professor at BYU-Idaho; former school bond committee member.
CANDIDATES QUESTIONNAIRE RESPONSES
Do you support the 2016-17 public school budget passed by the Legislature this year? Why or why not?
Ricks: Yes, I think the Idaho Legislature did a good job on funding this year for education. There was unanimous Senate support and only a few nay votes in the House for the 2016-17 budget. I like the fact the Legislature is keeping it promise to catch up appropriations since the economy crash around 2009. However, I was disappointed my opponent, Rep. Ron Nate, voted against four of the ten public schools appropriation bills. Idaho’s economy is doing well right now and it’s a good time to help education.
Nate: Yes. For the second year in a row, the Idaho Legislature increased the K-12 education budget by 7.4 percent. With the second year of career ladder and other funding improvements, public education is finally restored to its pre-recession levels of funding. This is good news for Idaho students, teachers and schools. However, work still needs to be done to keep the best teachers in Idaho. Our mix of education spending should be changed to direct larger increases in funding to teacher salaries and classroom needs, with smaller increases toward buildings and administration. Over time, we should be able to attract and reward the best teachers while meeting all areas of education needs in Idaho.
Editor’s note: The 2016-17 public schools budget was broken into seven pieces. Nate voted in favor of three of the seven budget bills. Review our bill tracker for the voting records of all lawmakers on public education related bills.
Explain why you support or oppose implementing all of Gov. Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education recommendations over the next three years.
Ricks: I am in favor of the Task Force recommendations and if they can be implemented in three years – all the better. I think they are headed in the right direction. I don’t have a lot of specifics to add, because I haven’t been dealt much with this yet. However, I would quickly get up to speed if elected and draw on input from local educators and parents as well as experts.
Nate: The task force recommendations are a mixed bag. Some are good, and some would redirect resources from where they are more needed. For example, improving literacy proficiency, increasing dual credit opportunities, better internet access, higher teacher pay, enrollment-based funding, and allowing more local control are all good for Idaho education. On the other hand, requiring Common Core statewide standards and imposing even more district reporting, place unnecessary burdens our system.
State leaders are promoting a goal of having 60 percent of Idaho’s young adults hold a postsecondary degree or certificate by the year 2020. Do you support or oppose this goal and why?
Ricks: Yes, I support this goal. I believe college education opens the door for better jobs for most students. I work at a university and see the benefits of students attending college and earning a degree.
Nate: The 60 percent degree goal is an admirable goal, however achieving it does not depend solely on public education. Idaho’s young adults themselves decide whether to pursue college degrees and certificates. Yes, Idaho education should encourage them to aim high and achieve to their best abilities and desires—and college should definitely be encouraged. Idaho education should focus on preparing its graduates as best they can to pursue whatever career and education goals they have for themselves. A solid basic education in reading, writing, history, math, and sciences, suited for today’s times, will help students achieve their goals.
Idaho students’ math scores on several tests, including the SAT, SBAC, and NAEP, have raised concerns among educators and state leaders. What would you do to increase student achievement in math?
Ricks: I have colleagues who teach math at my workplace university so I would probably first get their input and recommendations on the subject. I would be open to ideas and input from experts, parents, teachers, etc. I have seen firsthand many students coming into colleges having to take remedial math courses so I know improvements in K-12 can be made. Furthermore I would support and work with the Task Force recommendations on boosting math scores.
Nate: Too often people look to Boise or even Washington, D.C., to get answers about how to address a particular issue. Low math scores will be best addressed at the local level, not by some new directive from the Idaho Legislature. Providing districts and teachers with the appropriate funding, coupled with more local control will allow them the opportunity to explore curriculum and pedagogical options for finding ways to improve students’ math achievement. Ultimately, parents and the children themselves need to be involved in the plans to improve math outcomes