Editor’s note: This story is part of an EdNews series on influential education leaders and figures across Idaho.
Halli Stone watched the student protests and anti-war sentiment of the 1960s as a young girl growing up near Washington State University.
The changing times clashed with her conservative Mormon upbringing. Still, she marveled at the “dichotomy of political beliefs in our country.”
Stone has clung to her conservative roots through the years. The 5-foot, 1-inch grandmother of 15 is a longtime activist, opposing issues from abortion to the Equal Rights Amendment.
But another issue dominates her golden years: fighting increases to local property taxes. Today, Stone has been an unyielding voice in shutting out millions upon millions of dollars in local funding requests from the Bonneville School District, where she lives.
She’s a controversial yet powerful local figure, influenced by her conservative upbringing and bygone days as a local radio host bent on affecting change.
“We’re not done here,” said Stone, now 66, of her efforts in Bonneville. “I want voters to make informed decisions on the ballot, not just listen to the district.”
The stay-at-home mom who didn’t often stay at home
Stone’s father, a local church bishop and Boy Scouts of America troop leader, instilled in her and her siblings the Boy Scouts oath and law, which emphasize a duty to God and attributes such as thriftiness and bravery.
Those values stuck with Stone through the years. She went on to marry a devoted scout and spend her days as a newlywed in Pullman, Wash., in the 1970s. He worked on his PhD in chemistry at Washington State. She settled into her role as a stay-at-home mom with three kids.
But she didn’t always stay at home.
The “big abortion questions in the ’70s” had an early impact on Stone, who confronted abortion-rights activists on the WSU campus in the wake of Rowe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that struck down several Texas laws criminalizing abortion. It was “an eye-opening experience” for Stone, who recalled the “hatred and intolerance” she and her friends experienced during the event.
She “was and still is” passionately opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment aimed at guaranteeing legal equality for Americans regardless of sex. For Stone, the law is destructive to families and discourages marriage in “the traditional sense.”
“There’s just no dancing, no beating around the bush, with Halli,” said Larry Lyon, a fellow member of D93 Citizens, Stone’s group that opposes ballot measures in Bonneville. “She won’t shy away from the truth.”
Her opinions on many political topics haven’t wavered through the years. She’s an active leader in Boy Scouts of America, and she’s still an outspoken critic of abortion as a board member for the Idaho Chooses Life Alliance.
Eventually, the Stones moved to Idaho Falls for a job at the Idaho National Laboratory. The couple enrolled their five kids in the Bonneville School District, where they’d all graduate from high school — and where Stone would make headlines.
The “Let’s Get Cooking with Trish and Halli” show
Stone and her sister, Trish Oaks, pitched an idea for a cooking show to KID Newsradio in 1993.
Oaks brought what Stone called a “great big, mile-high strawberry pie” to butter up decision makers at the studio. It worked. “Let’s Get Cooking With Trish and Halli” hit the local AM airwaves.
“We were scared to death,” Oaks told EdNews.
The show featured a who’s-who of community members sharing their favorite recipes and talking on air about their areas of expertise. Guests ranged from a local veterinarian to school superintendents and city council members.
It started with cooking but took a sharp turn toward politics.
By 1996, the sisters picked up another show on KID, putting them on both sides of Rush Limbaugh’s daytime slot. The women talked local politics in the morning and recipes in the afternoon.
“We were having a ball,” said Stone, describing much of her work on the political show as “investigative journalism,” from probing tips on a government employee doing “unethical things” to a school superintendent accused of laundering money.
Eventually, the station gave the women an ultimatum: food or politics. They chose politics full time and “kept tabs” on state Republicans they saw as too progressive for Idaho.
Two leaders who fell into their crosshairs included then-Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb and former Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Bart Davis, now a retired U.S. attorney for Idaho.
Gadfly critiques of the men culminated with comments about the shooting death of Davis’ son in 2003.
Newcomb took issue with the comments and petitioned the FCC to strip KID of its licensing renewal. Another complaint called the show “psycho-conservative garbage.”
The FCC eventually granted KID its renewal license, but local complaints had jeopardized advertising and led to the show’s demise, then-KID general manager Tim Murphy told EdNews.
Meanwhile, Oaks returned to Washington to help take care of the women’s ailing father. By 2006, the sisters were off the air.
‘We don’t support gigantic tax increases’
Stone has since tapped into her experience as an activist and commentator to battle the Bonneville School District’s pursuit of local funds aimed at sustaining years of enrollment growth.
And she’s found some unusual success.
Organized opposition to district funding measures is rare in Idaho. Defeating them in a district of some 13,000 students is even more rare. Yet Stone’s group has helped move the needle in elections, again and again.
In March, she led the charge against two levy requests totaling $53 million, firing off a barrage of press releases lambasting the “ill-advised” and “excessive” requests. Bonneville Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme did not respond to questions about Stone’s impact on the district.
One levy received only 41 percent support on election day, well below the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass. The other measure, requiring a simple majority to pass, received just 42 percent support.
The defeats were out of the ordinary. Bonneville was the only district to have two measures shot down in an election where 87 percent of local levy requests across the state were successful.
The results left Bonneville trustees frustrated, but unrelenting. They voted to return to votes and float two reduced levies in May. “I think we have an obligation to go back out,” said trustee Paul Jenkins.
Stone touted her victory with another press release: “We support farmers. We support those on fixed incomes or who are out of work. We support all taxpayers. We don’t support gigantic tax increases.”
Results from March were reminiscent of earlier big-money bouts she’s had with the district.
Stone helped orchestrate similar attacks in 2014, after Bonneville floated a $92 million bond measure to build both a new high school and middle school. That proposal failed to receive a majority of votes, let alone the supermajority needed to pass, in the wake of organized opposition.
After failing a second and third time, the district whittled the measure to $63.5 million by ditching an original request for a new middle school. The measure passed in 2015.
“We must’ve blinked on that last one,” said Stone, who’s found other ways to pushback in recent years.
“Weary taxpayers, come join us Wednesday!” she wrote in a 2019 press release announcing a protest outside the district office in response to “endless taxes, double talk on building capacities” and a secretive six-figure payout to a former Bonneville superintendent.