Newcomer challenging incumbent for District 35 senator in primary - East Idaho News
East Idaho Elects

Newcomer challenging incumbent for District 35 senator in primary

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published on April 21. We are reposting it to include the responses from both candidates.

IDAHO FALLS – Two candidates are hoping to become the Republican party nominee in the race for District 35 senator.

Newcomer Doug Toomer of Iona is challenging incumbent Mark Harris of Soda Springs. sent the same eight questions to each candidate. Their responses were required to be 250 words or less.

Visit Mark Harris’ Facebook page here. Toomer’s Facebook page is available here.

District 35 includes all of Teton, Caribou and Bear Lake counties, and a portion of Bonneville and Bannock counties.

The primary is May 17. The general election is Nov. 8.

RELATED | Iona man announces his run for Idaho Senate

Tell us about yourself — include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.

Harris: I am a fifth-generation Idahoan born in Montpelier. My wife, Cheryl, and I have four boys that live on and operate a family cattle ranch south of Soda Springs in Bear Lake County. I am a partner in this ranching operation with my brothers as well as a farm in Cassia County.

Upon returning from a two-year mission for my church in Cordoba, Argentina, I attended and graduated from Utah State University with a BA in Political Science.

I have served as the State Young Farmers and Ranchers chairman for Idaho Farm Bureau and various state committees as well as a director on the Idaho Farm Bureau State Board. I have also served as a director on the State Board of Directors for the Idaho Cattle Association.

I have served on the Bear Lake Planning and Zoning Committee and currently serve as a trustee on the board of the Bear Lake Memorial Hospital.

I have been very involved with the Bear Lake County GOP as well as the state GOP where I was the Bear Lake County Youth Committeeman, as well as a Legislative District Vice-Chair, Legislative District Chair, Region Vice-Chair and Region Chair.

I was appointed to the Idaho State Senate in the summer of 2015 to finish the term of Senator John Tippetts. Since then, I have won three elections and am currently serving my fourth term. I have served on the Senate Agriculture Affairs Committee, the Senate Transportation Committee and am serving on the Senate Health and Welfare and Senate State Affairs Committees. I was elected by my Senate peers to serve as the Majority Caucus Chair.

Toomer: I was born and raised on a farm in Rigby and am a fifth-generation Idahoan. I have been married to my wonderful tolerant wife, Cindy, for over 42 years and have two amazing children, Jason and Kellie, and one special daughter-in-law, Alison.

I had a successful 40-year career at the Idaho National Laboratory with many different positions, primarily as a project/program manager. I am an expert in spent nuclear fuel and special nuclear material management and storage and am one of a handful of experts on the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement as it relates to spent nuclear fuel. I helped negotiate the 2011 agreement between Idaho and the Department of Energy that enables research quantities of commercially spent nuclear fuel to be brought into and retained for research. As a result of the 2011 agreement, I became manager of Industry Programs, responsible for reaching out to the commercial nuclear industry to bring their research work to INL (which was previously primarily performed overseas). One of the companies I brought in is TerraPower (owned by Bill Gates), and I was the sole “Relationship” manager between them and INL. Unfortunately, I caught TerraPower attempting to patent a nuclear fuel design that INL researchers had been developing. I called ‘timeout’ on TerraPower’s activities which angered TerraPower/Bill Gates and INL executive management. As a result, my responsibilities with TerraPower were terminated, and I was forced to retire. I do have lawsuits ongoing against TerraPower and INL.

I started the Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation in 1995, and I unsuccessfully ran for Idaho Falls City Council in 1997. In 2021, I founded the organization Stand Up For Idaho, a nonpartisan citizens’ organization actively advocating for the rights and liberties of all Idahoans.

What are your proudest accomplishments in your personal life or career?

Toomer: My proudest personal accomplishment is unquestionably my family. My wife and children are truly amazing, and they mean everything to me.

Although I had a very successful career and am well-known for my ability to solve complex problems, my proudest career accomplishment was having the integrity and guts to stand up to TerraPower and Battelle Energy Alliance (INL managing contractor) against their fraudulent efforts.

My most recent accomplishment is the founding of the organization Stand Up For Idaho. It has grown from a desire to figure out “What can I do to fix the mess our country and state are in?” to an organization with thousands of supporters. The people I have met and the support we receive are absolutely amazing and give me confidence in the good, generous and caring people in the world.

Harris: My proudest accomplishment is my family. Cheryl and I are raising four great boys. Watching them learn and succeed in the things they are involved in makes us proud. We are grateful for their coaches, teachers, church leaders, friends and grandparents that help us along the way.

Another area I am proud of is our ranching business. Ranching is our family legacy, and it is a way of life for us. In a time when many family ranching operations are being downsized or sold off, we as a family have been able to grow our ranching business over the years. This is a life of several challenges, and it requires constant changes to survive and grow. So far, we have been able to do this, but it requires a willingness to work with others.

Why are you a member of the Republican party? Briefly explain your political platform.

Harris: My grandparents and my parents were strong republicans. I remember going to several State conventions when I was younger and then when I was old enough, I began to be involved myself. With our family business, I believe and see the benefits in limited, efficient government. Protection of private property is essential to who we are as a nation. Private property defines us Americans and sets us apart from other nations. I hold fast to the protections of the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution and strongly believe limited government is best. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech also sets us apart from other nations and is something that requires constant diligence to protect and should be practiced frequently. Businesses should be promoted through free enterprise and taxes should be kept at a necessary minimum as to not stifle growth and prosperity. The Republican Party also believes life is sacred and should be protected. These are all things the Republican Party stands for. This is why I am a republican.

Toomer: I am a Republican, and I support its platform. I believe in God, country and the Constitution. I believe America and Idaho are exceptional. The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” I agree with the Declaration without question.

What are the greatest challenges facing Idahoans?

Toomer: The greatest challenges are government overreach and growth, in all areas – local, state and federal. With this comes dictating what people, churches, businesses, etc. can and cannot do. For generations, folks have settled and raised families in our great state because of the freedom Idaho offers. Over the past two years, we have watched government infringe upon these freedoms in the name of health and safety. The greatest challenge we face as Idahoans is regaining our voice as “We the people” and limiting government interference in our lives, families, schools, businesses and churches.

Harris: Right now, the greatest challenge for Idahoans is the recent rise in inflation. Fuel prices have gone up drastically. This affects the price of shipping costs, food in the grocery stores, and will put our farmers, construction contractors, mines, and other businesses in Idaho in a difficult situation regarding their costs. Another challenge facing Idahoans is the unprecedented growth in the state. This growth is affecting our property taxes, causing housing shortages, increasing wear on our infrastructure and will cause increased demand on our water supply. There will be increasing competition for our water resources affecting cities, irrigators, and recreation. As with all challenges, there are opportunities and together we can overcome these issues as we work to address them to better manage our resources.

How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views?

Harris: When elected, it has been my view that I represent all of my constituents, not just those that voted for me. I have my values and views, but it is important to listen to others and understand the other viewpoints. This is something I have always tried to do. In many cases, getting the different parties together has resulted in the best solutions for everyone. Sometimes, opinions are too far apart but being able to listen and respect the other side is critical.

Regarding legislation, I try to understand the intent and if it achieves the intent with the words that are used. The needs of my constituents, my values, principles, and whether the legislation is Constitutional or not guide me on whether I will support the bill or not. Sometimes legislation is poorly written and should not be passed because of unintended outcomes. Often, good legislation takes a few years of trial and error, and a lot of interested input, before it is finally right.

Toomer: I believe in our constitutions. The acid test for me on any issue is, “Does it infringe on the US Constitution or the constitution of the State of Idaho?” With that as my rule, I speak daily with constituents from varying political backgrounds and am eager to look at issues and concerns, apply this acid test and choose what’s best for the people of Idaho.

What role do lobbying entities play in the decision-making of Idaho legislators?

Toomer: Lobbyists have a role to help legislators understand how legislation may affect the entities they represent, and legislators should listen to them. However, as I previously stated, the first acid test of any legislation is “Does it infringe on the US Constitution or the Constitution of the state of Idaho?” The second is, “How does it affect citizens?” Citizens take priority over special interest entities. Regularly, the State Senate “tables” or outright kills good bills. This leads many to believe that our State Senate is swayed by special interests and lobbyists far more than by the citizens of Idaho. Idahoans cannot allow this of their elected representatives.

Harris: In the Idaho legislature, we are a part time, citizen legislature and we do not have staff. The lobbying entities are very useful as they can and do provide valuable information from the various businesses and groups they represent. Great care needs to be taken, however, by the serious legislator to get the other opposing viewpoint and checking with constituents before making a decision regarding a vote on legislation.These lobbying entities can also be very helpful in drafting legislation garnering support for or against a bill. The most powerful and most influential testimony in committee hearing comes from the individually affected constituent. The best experts are the people who are living the issue not the agency, department, or the lobby.

How can you encourage compromise, debate and a bipartisan approach to introducing new legislation in Idaho?

Harris: Differing ideas are always valuable. Differing ideas is what makes a piece of legislation better. I have found that being able to work with others, whether it is other legislators or constituents, is the best approach to get to the best solution. It is also important to keep things professional and not get personal in debate as you may not agree on most issues but may agree on the one most important issue. Compromise is important and can be done as long as your guiding set of principles remain strongly intact. The most effective legislators are the ones that can work with all parties. We are fortunate in Idaho that many of the issues we work on are bipartisan such as agriculture and water issues. Both Republicans and Democrats can agree on the importance of keeping Idaho water clean and free from invasive species as I found out with the very first piece of legislation I drafted and got passed by both the Senate and House.

Toomer: Debate is essential. Proposed bills should not be “drawered,” tabled or killed at the whim of an individual. A lot of effort goes into drafting a bill, and it should undergo some constructive discourse to determine its merit and whether it should be pursued. However, there are situations and specific issues where principles cannot be compromised. Idahoans expect their elected representatives to share the same values and core principles they do. When representatives bend or break these principles in the name of “compromise,” are they really representing Idahoans?

What parts of Idaho government could benefit from additional state funding? What part of Idaho government could be improved with financial cutbacks?

Toomer: We really need to be looking at what needs to be done to ensure EVERY part of Idaho government is NECESSARY and EFFICIENT. I don’t believe this evaluation is truly currently happening. Therefore, to say that this part of government needs more funding and that part of government needs to be cut back is irresponsible.

As I said earlier, some of the greatest challenges facing Idahoans are government overreach and growth, in all areas – local, state and federal. One result of this is taxes and the burdens on Idahoans are way too high. Without question, we need to provide for “essential” government functions but I believe many government agencies have become bureaucratic and self-serving and feel the need to “grow.” This “growth” not only costs more, thereby creating the need to increase taxes, but also creates more government regulation and control. Government regulation and control are generally not to the benefit of the taxpayer. We need to stop “nonessential” government growth and re-evaluate how to fund “essential” government functions. By reducing the amount of “nonessential” government functions, we will be able to reduce the overall tax burden on Idahoans.

Harris: As I mentioned before, growth in Idaho is going to require more state funding in some areas. Many of our schools are outgrowing their buildings and there is a shortage of teachers in many of our rural areas. Our roads and bridges are crowded and wearing out. We also have a need for more broadband access. Last Legislative session, the legislature, and the Governor addressed some of these areas with increased one-time funding. These things need to be monitored and checked to make sure money is being spent in a wise, efficient manner. Broadband in rural areas needs to be improved for both education and businesses. Some of our kids in more rural areas still do not have good reliable internet services in order to do their homework. This is not acceptable in today’s world.

Our water and water quality is another area that is a cause for concern. With our growth, there will be an added strain on our water usage. This issue will require more attention in the future. I am not sure if it will require more funding, but we cannot discount it. Great care needs to be made to make sure the Idaho taxpayer is not on the hook for an on-going program that has no end and no benefit.

What could be improved with cutbacks? There is always some room for improvement in the way our state agencies could be managed. Currently, the Governor is consolidating several different commissions and state programs. This is an effort to cut costs and be more efficient. We can and are placing agencies in the same office space as well as encouraging some state employees to work remotely. I feel there is always some room for improvement as long as it does not interfere with the services they are supposed to provide for the citizens of Idaho.