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Idaho governor declines debates ahead of Republican primary

East Idaho Elects

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Friday he won’t participate in debates heading into next month’s Republican primary.

The first-term governor had been invited to participate in debates put on by Idaho Debates on Idaho Public Television and another put on by KTVB-TV.

“Governor Little has a proven track record of cutting red tape, responsibly managing the budget and the economy, and providing Idaho families and businesses with historic tax relief and record investments in schools, roads, water, and other areas,” his campaign said in a statement. “Those historic accomplishments and facts are non-debatable.”

Little has drawn several Republican challengers, including far-right Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. The governor and lieutenant governor run on separate tickets. Little has a significant fundraising advantage, and debating McGeachin in a statewide televised debate could give her a big platform with not much to gain for himself.

The two have sparred during the coronavirus pandemic, with McGeachin as acting governor issuing several executive orders while Little was out of town. Little rescinded McGeachin’s orders each time.

McGeachin, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, tweeted that Little’s decision wasn’t based on “a scheduling conflict, rather he just doesn’t want to debate. Once again, he is showing his elitist attitude by refusing to address his record.”

After Little’s announcement, Idaho Debates officials said it was unclear if the governor’s debate will be held without Little, and they were conferring with other candidates. They said it was the first time in more than three decades that a sitting governor seeking reelection had declined to participate.

Also on Friday, Republican state Rep. Priscilla Giddings backed out of a lieutenant governor debate against House Speaker Scott Bedke that had been set for Monday.

Idaho Debates officials said Giddings had previously committed to the debate, as had Bedke. Giddings, however, required her preapproval of reporter panelists, citing her concerns they would be biased. But Idaho Debates officials said they don’t reveal reporters on a panel to any candidate in advance.

“The decision to withhold the names of the panelists on the false pretense that this will suddenly make them fair and respectful leaves us with very little choice,” said Giddings campaign spokesman Zach Lautenschlager in an email to Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television, the scheduled debate moderator. “We are forced to refuse the invitation.”

Bedke in a statement said he was happy to take part in Monday’s debate and had also agreed to a debate on KTVB-TV with no preconditions.

“It’s unfortunate that the people of Idaho will not get this opportunity to see, firsthand, the difference between my record of delivering conservative results versus my opponent’s empty rhetoric,” Bedke wrote.

Idaho Debates are a collaboration between the Idaho Press Club, Idaho Public Television, the League of Women Voters of Idaho and Idaho’s public universities.

Refusing to take part in the statewide televised debates ahead of the Idaho primary gives voters less opportunity to scrutinize candidates and potentially see different philosophies on display.

“Idaho Public Television reaches nearly every household in the state, and we know from past comments that many Republican primary voters rely on debates to inform their decisions at the ballot box,” Davlin said.

The governor and lieutenant governor races offer stark choices for voters, with Little and Bedke among the more mainstream Republicans that have dominated Idaho for several decades, and McGeachin and Giddings associated with the far-right that has been making inroads in recent years.

In conservative Idaho, the winner of the Republican primary in statewide races is almost guaranteed to win the general election. Democrats have not held the governor’s office since 1995 or statewide elected office since 2007.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has also said he wouldn’t take part in Republican primary debates this year.

Simpson, who is generally but not always aligned with Little and Bedke, has drawn a handful of primary challengers for Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District that he’s represented since 1999.

The most notable challenger there is Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls. Smith ran against Simson in the 2014 Republican primary but lost. Simpson’s campaign has said voters have already seen enough of Smith.

Republican U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, who has represented Idaho’s 1st Congressional District since 2019, didn’t draw a primary challenger.

Several other Republican primary debates put on by Idaho Debates are still planned. Those include the candidates for attorney general on Tuesday, superintendent of public instruction on April 25 and for secretary of state on April 26.

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