When the candidates for lieutenant governor sparred during a statewide debate Friday night, a controversial libraries bill was one point of contention.
Republican Scott Bedke and Democrat Terri Pickens Manweiler clashed on House Bill 666 — which would have allowed prosecutors to seek criminal charges against librarians for “disseminating material harmful to minors.” The House passed HB 666 on nearly a party-line vote, but the Senate did not take up the bill.
Bedke, the speaker of the House, was among five Republican lawmakers who missed the 51-14 floor vote on March 7.
“It passed the House without my support,” Bedke said during Friday night’s debate, which aired on Idaho Public Television. “Let’s make that known.”
While that’s accurate, here’s what Bedke said about the merits of HB 666 in March, on an Idaho Education News podcast.
“There were things about the remedy that I did not like, but I would have voted for it.”
Pickens Manweiler criticized Bedke for even allowing the bill to reach the House floor. As speaker, she said, Bedke could have stopped the bill, as Senate leaders did. Instead, the House floor debate allowed the bill’s supporters to decry obscenity in the state’s libraries. “(That) gave that argument legitimacy, even though there is none to it.”
During the hour-long debate, the candidates disagreed on several issues — particularly abortion. (For more about that aspect of the debate, here’s an article from Clark Corbin of the Idaho Capital Sun.)
A few other talking points:
School funding. Legislators took an important step on school funding in September, Bedke said, by injecting another $410 million into education budgets during a one-day special session. The state can’t afford to lose sight of programs such as literacy, he said, but career preparedness has to be the state’s overarching goal. “It’s about connecting Idaho kids with Idaho jobs.”
Pickens Manweiler said the Legislature has “completely starved education” during Bedke’s 20 years in the House — and the state needs to invest in everything from pre-K and all-day kindergarten to teacher pay and higher education. The Legislature only acted in September in order to convince Reclaim Idaho to drop its K-12 funding voter initiative. “Otherwise, it was going to be on the ballot with us.”
School bonds and levies. Both candidates suggested the state should move school funding off local property taxes — although neither explained exactly how they would do it.
Pickens Manweiler suggested using Idaho’s record-setting surplus to pay off school bonds and levies. Bedke said the state may need to “reevaluate” its ever-growing reliance on supplemental school levies, and perhaps its use of bond issues to build new schools. “We’re starting to not pass school bonds around the state. … If we’re not going to build schools with property tax dollars, we’re going to have to build them with other dollars.”
Leadership. Bedke defended his 10-year track record as House speaker — saying his fellow Republicans didn’t elect him to preside with a “heavy hand.” Pickens Manweiler said Bedke has enabled the extremism that now pervades Statehouse politics.
“My opponent sat back in the House with his gavel and stayed silent while the minority of extremists became the loudest voice in the Legislature,” she said. “And he thinks that’s earned him the gavel in the Senate. It has not.”
The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and breaks rare tie votes on the Senate floor. The lieutenant governor also stands in for the governor as needed — and would succeed the governor if the post came open.
Bedke, an Oakley rancher, and Pickens Manweiler, a Boise attorney, are joined on the Nov. 8 ballot by Constitution Party nominee Pro-Life. The farmer and perennial political candidate did not participate in Friday’s debate.