By William L. Spence Of the Tribune
Orofino chiropractor Dennis Harper takes on two-term incumbent Rep. Priscilla Giddings in the May 19 Republican primary race for Idaho’s 7th Legislative District House A seat.
Harper, 63, initially filed for the House B seat, after longtime Rep. Paul Shepherd announced he wouldn’t run for another term in office. However, when it got to the final day of the candidate filing period and no one had filed for the House A seat, he switched his paperwork.
“I didn’t intend to challenge an incumbent,” Harper said. “I just thought it was crazy to leave an open seat.”
Giddings, 36, filed for reelection later that day, putting the two on a collision course.
No Democrats filed for the position so, barring a write-in challenge, the winner of the primary will go on to represent the 7th District in Boise for the next two years. The district includes Idaho, Clearwater and Shoshone counties, as well as a small corner of Bonner County.
Harper grew up in northern California, but moved to Idaho 40 years ago. He chose Orofino as the location for his chiropractic business because he loves to hunt and fish.
Although he’s never run for public office before, he has a reasonable understanding of what’s involved. He served on the Idaho State Board of Chiropractic for 12 years, working on legislation and rules. He’s also served on the legislative affairs committee for the Orofino Chamber of Commerce for about 15 years, and has worked with state and federal agencies on issues involving natural resource development and Dworshak Dam and Reservoir operations.
He served as a substitute lawmaker as well, filling in temporarily several years ago for then-state Sen. Skip Brandt.
“I think I bring enough knowledge base to be realistic about the job,” Harper said.
That said, he’s running for office because he’s “frustrated” with certain land management and natural resource decisions, as well as with public education and with the way health care operates in Idaho.
For example, he supports greater access to timber resources and feels wolves have had a highly negative impact on regional elk populations.
On the health care front, he’d like Idaho to ease its “standard of care” requirements — similar to what California and Alaska have done — so doctors and patients can pursue treatment options outside of the traditional norms without getting into trouble with regulatory boards.
And as Idaho and the nation struggle with the medical and economic effects of the coronavirus, Harper said, having someone else in the Legislature with health care expertise will be particularly critical in the coming year.
“I’ve always felt I needed to make a difference in the world,” Harper said. “And I’m willing to put my money (and time) where my mouth is, when I’m serious about something.”
Giddings said she’s running for reelection to “keep up the fight.”
“We have 70 members in the Idaho House, including 14 Democrats and 56 who call themselves Republicans,” she said. Of the Republicans, “28 are fairly progressive, while 28 are more conservative. If we get more conservative Republicans, we can stop more big-spending, progressive ideas from moving forward. So now it’s more important than ever to keep up the fight.”
As a member of the Air Force Reserves, she’d like to continue her work on veteran issues, as well as on health freedom.
Last session, for example, she introduced legislation that would prohibit state and local governments from doing business with companies that discriminate against workers who refused to be vaccinated for any illness or disease. The bill was introduced, but never received a committee hearing.
As a member of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, Giddings also pushed to repeal the 6 percent state sales tax on groceries. The move ran against the wishes of House Republican leadership, who supported an alternative plan to increase the grocery tax credit.
Overall, she said, “I don’t think (Harper’s) and my voting would be all that different. We’re pretty equal.”
Harper agreed, saying he supported Giddings when she first ran for office.
“I agree with her morals and ethics,” he said. “I just don’t know if she’s been as effective as she could be. She’s burned some bridges.”
Giddings acknowledged that she and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, “locked horns” almost from her first day in the Legislature.
However, she believes that has led to a “more professional” working environment, in which at least some conservative bills are allowed to work through the legislative process, rather than being quashed by leadership or committee chairmen.
“I think I’m one of the most effective at engaging with leadership to bring back conservative principles,” she said. “And until we get over 28 members, we’re not going to get past (the progressive chairmen), so there’s no way to really measure effectiveness.”
While some might suggest more could be accomplished through “honey” and cooperative relationships, Giddings prefers to “turn up the pressure” on those who don’t support her brand of conservatism.
“From a conservative Republican perspective, the state and country are too far gone to still be using honey,” she said. “You can’t fix a socialist trend by being nice.”
Giddings believes she’s the best choice for District 7 voters because “I’m the only legislator in that building who will provide detailed information about the inner workings and gamesmanship and excessive spending that’s going on.”
“I try to hold people accountable by exposing (such issues),” she said. “That takes a lot of time and effort. I don’t know if Dr. Harper will be able to provide the same information.”
Harper said his expertise in the health care arena, as well as his community involvement, give him the edge.
“I feel a real calling to do this, so we can make a difference,” he said. “It’s not a matter of surrendering our values; it’s about finding consensus and accomplishing things for the district.”
Given the public safety concerns about spreading the coronavirus, the May 19 primary will be conducted entirely by absentee ballot.
That means anyone who wants to vote in the election must fill out an absentee ballot request form. Requests can be submitted online at idahovotes.gov/vote-early-idaho; alternatively, people can print out the form and return it by mail or in person at their local county elections office.
The requests must be received by 8 p.m. May 19. The ballots themselves must be returned by June 2 at 8 p.m., at which time the votes will be tabulated.
Spence may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 791-9168.
By William L. Spence Of the Tribune