Horman and Smith squared off at Bonneville GOP forum last week; many candidates were absent

Gun Rights

IDAHO FALLS – The Bonneville County Republican Central Committee’s 2024 Republican Primary Candidate Forum was marked as much by who didn’t show up as those who did.

Most Republican incumbents had other commitments or chose not to participate – a reflection of continuing tensions between elected officials and local party leadership over recent party rule changes and the censuring of elected officials in District 32 and 33.

Sen. Kevin Cook, Rep. Stepthanie Mickelsen, Sen. Dave Lent, Rep. Marco Erickson, Sen. Mark Harris, Rep. Kevin Andrus and Rep. Josh Wheeler were not present to respond to questions from the crowd at the Bonneville County Republicans event Thursday at the Shilo Inn’s Snake River Event Center.

Legislative District 32 House seat B

In the race for Legislative District 32 House seat 32 B, Republican incumbent Rep. Wendy Horman and Republican Bryan Smith debated their conservative credentials via Zoom.

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LD 32 Seat B Rep. Wendy Horman and Bryan Smith Final
Bryan Smith and Wendy Horman are two of three GOP candidates in the race for Legislative District 32 seat B.

Horman, who has been serving in the Legislature for the past 12 years, has maintained an A rating with the National Rifle Association and and en endorsement by Idaho Chooses Life for her untainted pro-life record. She opposes transgender ideology, surgeries and hormone blockers, wants only women in women sports and “sponsored the nation’s first anti-critical race theory bill in America.”

She also “reformed the budget process to put greater transparency and accountability for your taxpayer dollars,” Horman said.

In 2022, state spending grew 12%. It’s increased 1.7% in 2024, partly due to changes implemented on the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee, where she serves as chairwoman.

“I have voted to cut $3.7 billion from income taxes, property taxes and rebates over the last four years,” she said. “I supported funding for school facilities this year. I definitely support the freedom of a parent to choose where to educate their child, regardless of their income or address. I am a Trump supporter.”

But Smith disputed her statement about being a Trump supporter, saying “I’m actually the only candidate who was a Trump delegate in this race. I’ll be voting for him in July. This is my second time. I was a Trump delegate in 2020.”

Smith wants to repeal the grocery tax, also supports educational choice, and wants to ensure Idaho has “no sanctuary cities. We don’t have free health care, free education and free food or even driver’s licenses (for) people who are here illegally.”

“I’m running because I believe also that Wendy is a big spender,” Smith said.

He later criticized her support for the Electronic Benefits Transfer program. Though it did not pass the Senate, it would have created what he said is a “permanent food stamp program for our children to teach them that they need to be dependent on the government for their food.”

The third candidate, Ammon Mayor Sean Coletti, did not participate.

Legislative District 32 House Seat A

Legislative District 32 House Seat A Republican candidates Kelly Golden and Sean Crystal discussed how they would serve the people if elected to Mickelsen’s position.

Crystal said he is working on a draft bill to “protect our election integrity. It includes a constitutional amendment to protect against rank choice voting and open primaries.”

LD 32 Seat A Kelly Golden and Sean Crystal final
Sean Crystal, right, and Kelly Golden, left, share their political goals.

Golden said she would like to see a Rebuilding Trust with Idahoans bill that examines “how the state government handled COVID, and some of the ensuing policies that were enacted.”

She supports “right to life … traditional marriage, traditional values. Those are at the very core values” of the Republican platform, which she said aligns with biblical truths.

Crystal also brought up religion in his response, saying “I think really getting back to the Christian roots of our nation — we were a nation that was founded on that Christian belief and we’ve really strayed away from it in many aspects.”

Golden is against recreational marijuana use, but Crystal, who owns a CBD shop, is in favor of it.

“I would advocate for sensible cannabis policy, looking at medical marijuana first, as two-thirds or more of Idahoans have supported that for over the last decade.”

Both candidates do not support the Idaho Launch program as it is being implemented. They do support HB 710 (the library bill) and agree with school choice policies. They also expressed support for not banning TikTok as a freedom of speech and First Amendment issue.

BCRCC forum
Barrett Hillier, Keith Newberry, Bryan Scholtz, Jilene Burger, Doug Toomer and Brett Skidmore answer questions at Thursday’s forum at the Shilo Inn. | David Pace, EastIdahoNews.com

Other candidates

A significant part of the evening was devoted to hearing from Republican candidates Keith Newberry, Bryan Scholz, Jilene Burger, Doug Toomer and Brett Skidmore.

Bonneville County Commissioner District 3 candidates Barrett Hillier and Alan Steel were also present, along with Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Neal.

Steel and Hillier’s opponents, Michelle Mallard and Debra Haacke, were not present. Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney candidate John Malek also missed the forum.

Scott Cleveland, who is running against Mike Simpson for the U.S. House of Representatives, shared his opposition to breaching dams on the lower Snake River.

“Why would a voter in Idaho support somebody that votes like a Democrat most of the time? Why would a voter want to reelect somebody that doesn’t even bother to come campaign in his own district?” he asked.

Newberry is running against Sen. Cook to represent District 32 in the Idaho Legislature. He blasted his incumbent opponent for supporting an increased Medicaid budget of $4.7 billion.

“The largest Medicaid budget in Idaho history,” he said. “The Idaho Legislature supported an additional $1.5 billion this year in spending. Idaho’s budget increased by 54% from 2019 to 2024.”

“Federal monies have increased in Idaho from 23% in 2021 to 43% in 2024,” Newberry added. “The Idaho State Senate in five years, leading up to 2024, never shot down a spending bill.”

Newberry believes in abolishing the grocery tax, enforcing immigration laws and not allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Scholz criticized Lent, his opponent in the Republican primary for Legislative District 33 senator, on similar issues.

Burger is running against Rep. Erickson for District 33, seat B as the “Voice of the Taxpayer.”

“I’m on a fixed income. That’s how a lot of people are. What am I going to do – even though I own my home now, and I can’t pay the property taxes?” Burger said. “The government is instituted to secure our rights, not to spend our money.”

“I’m sick and tired of watching Idaho politicians enact policies that follow the woke agenda, grow the powers of government, spend money on unconstitutional projects, accept money from the federal government with strings attached and raise our taxes.”

Toomer is hoping to become a senator for District 33 and was critical of Sen. Mark Harris’s leadership as majority caucus chairman.

“Look at your recent history of your legislators,” Toomer said to voters. “Are you happy with the way the state is going? Are you happy with the kind of way the country is going? If you are, then stay the course. If you’re not, then you need to make a change.”

Skidmore is vying for a seat on the House representing District 35. His opponent is incumbent Josh Wheeler.

“I have a different voice than big government, big pharma, big money,” he said. “Idaho is on the Democrats’ target. We are going to lose our conservative vote. It’s happened in eastern Idaho. Look at the conservative ratings.”

Barrett Hillier and Alan Steel, both candidates for the Bonneville County Commission, presented similar visions for the county, but different styles of leadership.

Hillier said he is a third-generation police officer. One of his key priorities is helping the county to reduce turnover at the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and make wages more competitive. The Sheriff’s office has lost 50 Bonneville County Sheriff’s deputies to the Idaho Falls Police Department or Idaho National Laboratory over the past two decades because of higher salaries, he said.

Hillier has also owned a construction company and has extensive understanding of Planning and Zoning. He is passionate and knowledgeable about the duties of a county commissioner.

Steel is the owner of Steel Gun and Pawn. He has received the endorsement of current County Commissioner Roger Christensen, the Farm Bureau and a partial endorsement from County Commissioner Bryon Reed, who also recommended voters consider candidate Debra Haacke as a possible selection.

Steel has a quieter, more mild leadership approach, 30 years of experience with budgets and said he listens well to other individuals.

Randy Neal is seeking a second term as Bonneville County prosecutor. His top three priorities are ensuring “there are consequences for criminal problems.”

“The second problem that we are having trouble with is sentencing consequences and sentencing outcomes. That pendulum has swung too far toward rehabilitation instead of protecting society, retribution or just punishment.

He’s also concerned about staffing, a nationwide problem “having to do more with fewer prosecutors than we have.”

The Republican primary is May 21.

BCRCC Forum 2
Jilene Burger, Doug Toomer, Brett Skidmore, Alan Steel, Scott Cleveland and Randy Neal take audience questions during the forum.
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