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Nye faces challenge from Republican Kolbet for state senate

October 26, 2018 GMT

POCATELLO -- Lance Kolbet embarked on a successful career path in college, when he set up a booth outside of an Idaho State University bookstore to sell his fellow students health insurance, and soon became a top-performing agent.

As he campaigns against Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, in Legislative District 29, Kolbet is touting his understanding of insurance and the broader health industry as the key reason why voters should elect him.

Nye, a local attorney, is a past president of the Idaho State Bar Association, and was elected to represent the state on the American Bar Association. As a volunteer at a local soup kitchen, Nye made it a priority to visit with the community’s homeless population. To get a different perspective on the plight of local homeless people, he once went “undercover,” posing as a homeless person.

“I learned that part of the reason these homeless come together for a hot meal is not just for the food. It’s for the companionship and the friendships,” Nye said.

Nye -- who said education and jobs are his top priorities as a senator -- also determined through the homeless experiment that the community “can do better” to meet the needs of people experiencing hard times.

Kolbet acknowledges he differs with other area Republicans in his assessment of the local economy. Though unemployment is historically low in the community, Kolbet is troubled that a large percentage of the population in the area is classified by United Way as being “asset limited, income constrained, employed.” He also believes too many people in the community qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

“We have a lot of working poor, and that’s not good, because the way we generate a lot of our revenue is through payroll taxes,” Kolbet said.

Kolbet enrolled in the U.S. Navy shortly after graduating from Twin Falls High School in 1987. He volunteered for submarine duty in the advanced electronics program and served in the Gulf War. He then enrolled in ISU’s ecology program, but he never finished the degree, having found a better opportunity in insurance sales. He got his insurance license to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who had been a door-to-door insurance salesman, after his grandfather’s death. Kolbet said he now has four certificates from the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Nye was a chairman of the fundraising campaign for ISU’s Stephen’s Performing Arts Center. He’s a past winner of the Idaho State Bar Association’s Professionalism Award and has been named Distinguished Lawyer of the Year.

“I have a lot of experience advocating for individuals and businesses and representing Pocatello,” Nye said.

Nye believes he’s made a difference through his position on the Senate’s powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, including in helping to fund state crisis centers, such as one planned for construction in Pocatello.

He also sponsored the Good Samaritan Bill, which has become law and allows anyone who encounters a child left unattended in a hot car to break a window to get them out if there’s an imminent risk of injury. A similar bill to help dogs failed, but Nye plans to bring it up again.

If elected, Kolbet said he would advocate for a law requiring high school students to take a credit of personal finance before graduating.

“I grew up in poverty,” Kolbet said. “My family did not know how to handle debt. They were terrible with money.”

Kolbet said he is “leaning in favor” of a proposition on the election ballot to restore the lawful use of machines that pool bets on historic horse races, which would be allowed where horse racing or parimutuel betting also occurs.

“I don’t like creating more legislation or rules to get in the way of people’s freedoms,” Kolbet said.

Nye said the proposition doesn’t “bother” him, given that there’s already an Idaho Lottery, but he believes voters who support the proposition should know “they’re voting for gambling being sold as horse racing.” He also believes claims that the proposition would be a boon to education are disingenuous since a mere fraction of a percentage of the profits would be given to schools.

A second proposition on the ballot seeks to expand Medicaid in Idaho. Nye said he supports the expansion. Kolbet said he supports the expansion “with side rails,” meaning the state must implement a trigger to “reel back” the expansion in the event that the Affordable Care Act is overturned or the federal government significantly cuts its contribution. Kolbet said he worries state investment in Medicaid could come at the expense of education.

If the state renews a push to repeal its tax on groceries, Kolbet said he would support the effort. Nye, however, would prefer increasing the existing grocery tax credit, which he said would provide a greater financial benefit for “the bottom half of earners.”

Nye said he supports the legalization of cannabidiol oil and medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor, but he isn’t onboard yet with legalized recreational marijuana. Kolbet said he also favors medical marijuana and isn’t ready for legal recreational use of the drug in Idaho. After giving his answer, however, he outlined reasons why legal recreational marijuana might make sense, including the high cost of policing a controlled substance that’s legal in other Northwest states.

“It’s not anybody’s business if it’s not causing me harm,” Kolbet said.