Vying for an office embroiled in headline-making controversy over the last two years, the two main candidates for Idaho Lieutenant Governor squared off in a debate on Oct. 30.
While Democrat Terri Pickens Manweiler’s chances of securing the election remain slim, her experience in the courtroom helped her outperform Republican Scott Bedke on the debate stage.
Manweiler, a trial lawyer from Boise who has argued before federal courts, made her litigation skills apparent throughout the debate as she branded herself as a restorer of balance and integrity, painted Bedke as tolerant of far-right extremism, and repeatedly attacked his legislative record.
Manweiler’s appeal to concerns over increasing extremism in the state drew fuel from incumbent Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s controversies over the last few years, which include: Assuming executive powers twice in the absence of Governor Brad Little from the state and issuing executive orders that ran contrary to his positions. Earlier in the year she also spoke at a conference hosted by white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
Manweiler said she wants to represent an opposing viewpoint within the executive branch to bring balance to the state government which has long been controlled by the GOP. She claims that the House in particular is moving to the far right.
In what may seem like a questionable strategy in a state where Pro-Life is the name of an actual lieutenant gubernatorial candidate, Manweiler made reproductive rights her main legislative issue.
Three Idaho anti-abortion laws passed since 2020 are under review by the Idaho Supreme Court.
One of those laws was partially blocked by a federal judge in August because there was no exception made for abortions done to prevent risk to the health of the mother. Bedke said it is his job to defend the actions of the legislature when he was asked about why he was spending taxpayer money to defend the law in court.
She criticized the GOP-led legislature for passing these bills saying one cannot claim to be pro-life if he or she does not support efforts to “protect the health of women.”
She said that doctors in the state do not know what they can legally do in cases of medical emergencies for pregnant women.
Bedke countered that the laws make exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
A poll conducted by SurveyUSA in October found that 33% of Idaho adults believe abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life. A slight majority, 51% said it should be legal in all circumstances or with some limitations.
Manweiler also criticized Bedke for allowing a bill to come to the floor of the House that would eliminate protections for librarians who disseminate “harmful material for minors.”
Bedke distanced himself from the bill by saying he did not vote for it, but that he does believe it is important to protect children.
Bedke mostly leaned on his legislative experience and credited Republican policies for the population growth of the state.
“Others want what we have” became his slogan of the night.
Idaho was the fastest-growing state in 2021.
He also spoke to the concern among longtime residents that the influx of new residents would change the culture of the state.
“We cannot let (the growth) change who we are,” Bedke said.
He lauded his mediation in water disputes, his involvement in the House education committee and his delivery of record tax cuts. He said that he knows how to bring people together to flesh out ideas.
While he was knocked for focusing much of his campaign on President Joe Biden and the federal government, this was not necessarily a bad tactic on Bedke’s part. Biden only received a third of the vote in Idaho and his national approval ratings hover at 40% in the latest polls.
Bedke’s ability to fall back on the general unpopularity of democrats in the state made his inability to adequately deflect Manweiler’s attacks a little less damaging.
After Bedke praised the $4 million in additional school funding approved by the legislature, Manweiler retorted that this only came at the behest of Reclaim Idaho, a non-profit that seeks Medicaid expansion and increased school funding.
She also accused him of defunding the police, blocking the creation of carpool lanes and attempting to sell public lands.
Manweiler undoubtedly had a strong showing. No matter the validity of Manweiler’s accusations, Bedke played defense the entire night.
It remains to be seen what voters think. But as Democrats nationwide face tough election prospects even in traditionally blue states, Manweiler faces a losing battle in deep red Idaho where the Republican won the lieutenant governor’s race in 2018 by nearly 20 percentage points and former President Donald Trump won by 30.
Though abortion might seem a hot issue, education, crime and the economy are hotter for Idaho voters according to an analysis of web searches in the last month.
The Democratic Party is the present face of Americans’ economic, crime and public school curriculum woes. So, despite her appeal to moderation and balance and her attempt to align herself with some conservative values like the second amendment, Manweiler will have a hard time appealing to most voters.