Russ Fulcher says incumbent Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter no longer represents the heart of Idaho's Republican Party.
Fulcher, a state senator from Meridian, has been on the campaign trail since late November spreading that message. He’s the tea party candidate trying to unseat a longtime cowboy politician he says has a political “machine” behind him.
“What I usually hear is from people who have left the Party,” Fulcher says. “They say 'I used to be a Republican but the Republican Party left me.' To that end, I consider myself the mainstream candidate.”
Fulcher is trying to paint Gov. Otter as a moderate Republican who’s stance on things like Medicaid expansion and the Common Core education standards, are too liberal for an Idaho governor. But Fulcher’s biggest criticism of Otter comes in regard to the governor’s 2012 push for a state-run health insurance exchange created as part of Obamacare.
“I would not have voluntarily embraced it,” Fulcher says. “I would have advised the federal government that if they choose to [pass the Affordable Care Act], then I guess they’ll have to go do that. But in the meantime, we would have embarked on a private alternative where we would have put in place components of a healthcare system that would have made more sense.”
Fulcher thinks Idaho can learn from other states like Louisiana and Texas, to create a system that better serves Idaho’s needs. He says it’s something the state Legislature should have been working on, but lacked the urgency he thinks Obamacare now provides.
“We create a parallel, free-market path that has things like a healthcare savings account, a healthcare membership component, opening up to competition direct pay, charity care – those types of components – that will be a superior solution,” Fulcher says. “And so when Obamacare does fail on a national level, we’ll have the correct system in place.”
Idaho's Obamacare marketplace, Your Health Idaho, recently announced that 76,000 Idahoans had signed up for health insurance plans during the program’s first open enrollment period. That was 190 percnet of the state’s goal. But Fulcher says he’s not sure he believes the numbers.
“It is what it is,” he says. “It doesn’t change the need to create an alternative.”
Otter and Fulcher disagree on how to approach a possible expansion of Medicaid that would include Idahoans living at 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Otter says he wants to see what works best in other states before moving forward with any expansion in Idaho. Fulcher thinks Otter will expand Medicaid in Idaho if elected to a third term. The senator says he would not.
“It’s a broken system,” Fucher says. “It’s just not wise to expand a broken system. It is another significant expansion of government.”
During campaign stops around the state, Fulcher touts local control over education instead of the nationally-favored Common Core education standards. Most states, including Idaho, have adopted Common Core. Indiana recently became the first of those states to have a change of heart.
Despite making Common Core a big part of his campaign, Fulcher did not push the issue during the 2014 legislative session. He says it’s not the Legislature’s job to change education standards, but rather the Idaho Department of Education’s responsibility.
“It’s not as simple as just saying ‘We’re gonna repeal Common Core’,” he says. “What you have to do is put in place a series of replacements.”
Across the board, Fulcher thinks election politics stifled any atmosphere for significant change at the Legislature this year. Common Core is one example. The Medicaid expansion issue is another.
“I think we addressed fewer of the major issues this year, in part, because of that [Republican governor’s] race,” Fulcher says. “In my opinion the governor didn’t want to address some of those real touchy issues.”
The race also created tension between Fulcher and governor’s office during the session.
“Admittedly, it was a bit awkward because I’m the caucus chairman for the Senate, which is one of the primary liaisons with the governor’s office,” Fulcher says. “But we knew that going in. And it worked out OK. But it was different.”
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