Lt. Governor race sets up historic first for Idaho
Janice McGeachin, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, is an outspoken opponent of Medicaid expansion, and introduced the successful resolution at June’s state Republican Party Convention to oppose it.
“That is one of the clearest differences — she’s opposed to it, I’m for it,” said Kristin Collum, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. “I helped gather the signatures to get it on the ballot.”
The two rivals for the part-time state post have one notable thing in common: Both are women, guaranteeing that Idaho will have its first-ever female lieutenant governor.
But McGeachin, a small business owner and former five-term state representative from Idaho Falls, says, “There are major policy differences between us.”
McGeachin, 55, who was a Trump delegate to the 2016 national Republican Party convention, says, “I am more in line with Idaho’s conservative values when it comes to less government intrusion and policies that support economic growth. We greatly differ on how to create prosperity in Idaho.”
Her campaign slogan: “Love America, Love Idaho.”
Collum, 51, a military veteran who worked her way up to serving at the Pentagon, then built a successful career as a high-tech executive after leaving the Army, working for Micron, Hewlett-Packard and Xylem, says, “I come from a working-class family, pulled myself up from the bootstraps, served in the military.”
Collum says she leaned more Republican earlier in her life, “But as time has gone by, the Republican Party moved away on me, and I think it probably has for a lot of Idahoans, if they check their values.”
She lists social and economic equality among her values, “Not just capitalism and a good stock market, but actually having everyone’s lives improving,” Collum said. “Right now, the CEOs have given themselves a 19 percent raise since the last tax cuts, but the workers’ pay has not made any marked improvement. That’s something I’m opposed to. It’s what’s best for all of us, what’s fair for all of us.”
Her campaign slogan: “Vote for the Vet.”
The Medicaid expansion issue, which Idaho voters will decide on through an initiative even as they elect a new governor, lieutenant governor and other officials on Nov. 6, looms large in the race.
McGeachin is the former chairwoman of the House Health & Welfare Committee. In that role, she adamantly opposed allowing any aspect of the national Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to be implemented in Idaho, including creation of a state insurance exchange. The exchange, Your Health Idaho, is now successfully up and running. But after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could choose whether or not to expand Medicaid to cover the working poor, while those with higher incomes could turn to the exchanges, Idaho lawmakers never approved expansion. They debated various approaches to it for six years after McGeachin left the House in 2012, but never passed one.
“The initiative is problematic because there is no funding mechanism attached for the voters to consider how they will pay for the expansion,” McGeachin said. “Currently, our education budgets are being squeezed by the growth in the Medicaid budget. I do not believe that socialized medicine and government mandated health insurance will bring about better and less costly health care. I will focus on policies which help reduce costs and improve access to care for all Idahoans.”
Collum said as she’s traveled the state campaigning, Medicaid expansion is the first or second concern voters have raised to her.
“Financially it makes sense,” Collum said, because it would bring Idaho back tax funds Idahoans already are paying in to the federal government, create savings by eliminating or reducing current catastrophic health care programs, and create jobs in the health care sector.
“But more importantly, I think it’s the right thing to do for the people that need that extra help,” she said. “They are working people. They have to pay for the immediate necessities.”
Medicaid expansion would close the health coverage gap that currently leaves Idahoans who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance through the state exchange, without any help in paying for pricey health coverage. The federal government would cover 90 percent of the cost of the expansion to about 62,000 Idahoans who now fall in the gap; the state would cover the remaining 10 percent.
McGeachin said the top concern she hears from voters is “that people are concerned with protecting the Idaho traditional way of life. They want their kids to have good-paying jobs so that they can stay in Idaho. They want to maintain access to the outdoor opportunities that we love in Idaho. They want lower costs and greater access to health care. They want less government control in their lives. They want their rights to own guns to be protected. In essence, they want freedom and Idaho solutions.”
The lieutenant governor’s main duties are presiding over the Senate when it is in session, and filling in for the governor when the governor is out of state or incapacitated. Typically, governors also have assigned additional duties to the lieutenant governor, from vetting state appointees to working on economic development.
McGeachin said her legislative experience has given her a “proven conservative record and experience with tax policy, budgeting, health care and Medicaid,” and said she also “helped navigate the state through the difficult recession of 2008.” McGeachin holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Arizona.
Collum says her military background, her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information systems and her cybersecurity experience would help her assist Idaho’s governor with the Idaho National Guard, which the governor oversees; and with cybersecurity, about which Idaho’s state government has been increasingly concerned. She also said she’s held leadership roles throughout her career in which she wasn’t necessarily the employer, but instead had to work “up and down and across” in the organization to influence people, both in the military and in high tech. That type of organizational approach, she said, is “very similar to what the lieutenant governor does.”
Idaho’s governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, and they don’t have to be of the same party. In fact, for years, current Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican, served as the lieutenant governor to then-Gov. Cecil Andrus, a Democrat.
Asked how each would work with a governor from the other party, the two candidates had differing answers.
“I find commonalities with everyone I work with — my whole career I have done that,” Collum said. She said her military background and cybersecurity expertise in particular “would be very beneficial to Idaho and very helpful to the governor that gets in place.”
McGeachin, asked how she would work with the governor if it were Democratic nominee Paulette Jordan rather than GOP nominee and current Lt. Gov. Brad Little, said, “She is not my candidate. I will likely be spending more time disagreeing with Paulette Jordan as governor than agreeing with her.”
“I would continue to work with my friends in the Legislature to promote sound policy and good community. Brad Little is a good man,” McGeachin said.