PAYETTE COUNTY - With two weeks to go before Idaho ballots are due for the May 19 election, the pressure for candidates to get voters to choose them over their opponent is on. Incumbent State Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, and Jim Smith, of Fruitland, the candidates for District 9 Representative Seat A (a two-year term), aced off via livestream on TVpbn.com about the issues which affect Idahoans in District 9.
The moderator for this debate was Alex Chavarria. Following is a sample of Kerby and Smith’s responses to his questions, in particular about dealing with future situations of similar scale to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Kerby and Smith varied widely on the level of business regulation in the state of Idaho.
“We’re now the least-regulated state in America,” said Kerby, who is seeking a fourth term. “That happened just in the last two years; I helped get some legislation through … to cut a lot of rules.”
Kerby also cited Idaho as a top state for growth leading up to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Smith, a fitness center owner running for office for the first time, disputed that claim.
“I kind of laugh when we say we’re the least regulated state in the country; We’re actually one of the most regulated states in the country right now and I’m not very happy about it. It has caused great problems for me and my business, my employees, my family, and I want to see some changes.”
Smith said he believes the lockdowns over COVID-19 have gone on too far, and has gone ahead and reopened his fitness centers. He said he has put protective measures in place.
Smith owns Body Shop Fitness gyms in both Idaho and Oregon; both states have varying steps that businesses are expected to be taking in order to reopen, and so far only his Idaho shops have reopened.
“I tried to comply originally because I try to do the right thing, I try to be obedient. But it’s gone too long, too far … We heard about herd immunity all the way back in March, and it’s been ignored and been ignored and been ignored. I do not agree with where we are at today. I might be a bit of a rebel, but I think our constitutional rights… have been trounced on terribly by the governor.”
There are varying opinions on herd immunity around the country, but health experts across the nation generally agree that if it is attempted before a vaccine is in place, the death toll will skyrocket. In discussing intervention strategies, the Centers for Disease Control has said that greater than 82% of the population has to be immune through either vaccination or prior infection, to achieve herd immunity to stop transmission.
Kerby agrees that the pace of reopening is a bit slow. He said he’s been pushing to get the economy going again, with social distancing in place.
“People now understand social distancing, they understand all the different sanitizing issues and so forth,” acknowledged Kerby. “Now the issue before us is getting the economy going, that is by far what the issue is now.”
As far as Gov. Brad Little’s stages of rebound, Kerby said the reopening needs to be based on data, not dates.
“I wanted his business closure to expire April 30,” he said, adding that he believed the curve of infections has been flattened. “I wanted the businesses that are in phase one or phase two open on May 1. Our prices are bad, we need to get the restaurants going … I really pushed hard.”
Kerby pointed out that in Georgia and Texas, where businesses are reopening, customers have been slow to come back which should help keep infections low.
Smith, using a reference to “Chicken Little,” stated that the related shutdowns didn’t need to be issued in the first place.
“I think we should have been open the whole time,” said Smith. “Let common sense prevail.”
Smith said he hasn’t had a paycheck in six weeks.
When asked about rights being suspended for the sake of health, Smith went straight to the U.S. Constitution for reference.
“Here’s the Constitution: What does it say? ‘Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.’ We’ve been told we can’t go to church … The government does not have a right to tell us to breach our constitutional rights, they don’t!”
And while the U.S. Constitution does allow freedom to practice religion, if there is enough compelling reason, a state can restrict the means in which to do so. According to national news out of California on May 5, a federal judge ruled that California Gov. Gavin Newson’s stay home order did not violate the constitutional rights to free assembly and religion. According to the deciding judge, the state and local stay home orders were a valid exercise of emergency police powers and were inline with the Supreme Court’s century old decision to uphold the government’s right to exercise such power for the sake of public safety during a public health crisis. A similar ruling was found on May 3 by a federal judge in a case in Illinois.
On the reverse side of that coin, Kerby cited statutes that allows the governor to make such orders.
“If you don’t do some social distancing and so forth, we’d have a lot more dead people right now. I think he’s used good judgment for some time. Now, I think that there’s going to be some discussion, which I am going to be supportive of … to look at this. The Legislature has not been involved, we’ve had weekly meetings but we have not been involved in this process.”
Kerby said in the next legislative session he would support legislation to clarify what the state can do in times like this.
When asked about getting employees back to work, Smith said getting his workers back on the job has been complicated by the timing of Little’s stages of rebound and the disbursement of unemployment benefits.
“It’s going to be hard to get any employees to come back to work when they can make more staying home,” said Smith. “They need to just open it up and let us be free Americans, and make these decisions for ourselves.
Smith was likely referring to the unemployment portion of the CARES Act, a federal program which is providing relief in the amount of $600 per week on top of a person’s unemployment disbursement for those who meet their state’s requirements for unemployment eligibility.
According to the Small Business Administration and U.S. Treasury Department, “employees and employers should be aware that employees who reject offers of re-employment may forfeit eligibility for continued unemployment compensation.”
Kerby expressed similar frustration about businesses being shut down, acknowledging that some may choose not to come back.
“I think we’re a way’s out from resolving the issue.”
Regarding Common Core state standards, Kerby, a former math teacher, said he sees the problems with the current standards but was reluctant to replace them without a plan to do so. However, he believes the standards are as good as gone.
“You have to have standards in place the whole time. If we didn’t, we would lose about $350 million a year,” Kerby said. “We don’t have money to replace those funds, so we have to have standards in place … My position for a long time is these standards have been divisive and need to be fixed. I taught math for 21 years, I was the math curriculum coordinator de facto as superintendent, I know these issues backward and forward. I voted to leave these standards in place … and then I spent pretty much the whole session three or four hours a day, going over the senate trying to figure out a process whereby we can get the Common Core out. The senate did not want to do it.”
Smith took issue with Kerby’s approach to Common Core, citing that the standards ‘don’t work for most.’
Smith says he’s has had plenty of experience with his own kids in school, as well as a student who is struggling due to Common Core, though he did not offer examples.
Smith said he’s been homeschooling his kids every day due to the virus, and has seen how many other parents struggle to understand Common Core math.
Higher education funding is a source of frustration for Smith, for reasons including the institutions becoming too liberal in his eyes.
Smith said colleges need to be reined in instead of being allowed to continue being “indoctrination stations.”
Kerby believes college needs to become more affordable, and wants to see cost savings that make sense.
“We keep giving away more things, freebies through health and welfare, and the loser has been higher ed,” said Kerby. “The last twenty years, higher ed just keeps dropping, keeps dropping, keeps dropping. We need to make it affordable. I think we need to do a better job of getting kids prepared, [for kids] who are not going to college we need to give them more options.”
Leslie Thompson contributed to this article.