POCATELLO -- Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello, said his top priority if elected to a second term would be finding ways to make Idaho health care more affordable, convinced health care will be the top issue in the upcoming legislative session.
His Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election for Legislative District 29-A, Chris Abernathy, has also prioritized improving access to health care, having knocked on doors soliciting signatures to force a proposition on the ballot to expand Medicaid in the state.
"I have some friends barely making enough, and they fall in that (Medicaid) gap, and it's terrible," said Abernathy, a local electrician who has been active in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 449 and serves on the executive board that oversees operations at the local labor temple. "They're afraid to go to the doctor. Some of them have bad health issues, and they need to be looked at."
Manwaring is a local attorney who established a Pocatello law firm in 2010. He believes voters will approve Medicaid expansion, and discussions will "quickly move into ways to make that palatable for most Idahoans," such as adding co-pays, increasing fraud checks and enrollment waiting periods. Manwaring believes the Medicaid expansion would do little to address the broader health care problem.
"Overall, my objective is to be a part of helping to bend the cost curve of health care in Idaho now," Manwaring said. "We're talking about a gap of people in Idaho we're trying to get covered (with Medicaid expansion). There are a lot more people in Idaho who can't afford health insurance."
Manwaring, who turns 37 on election day, said he originally ran for office because he saw a need for more young people to get involved in politics.
Education is another top issue for both candidates. Abernathy would like to see teacher pay increased in Idaho, along with greater investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Abernathy believes the state should also place more emphasis on educating students for jobs in the trades.
"We are lacking in tradesmen coming up," Abernathy said. "We are going to have nobody to build in 20 years."
Manwaring believes the state should focus on addressing a "skills" gap that's resulted in too few Idahoans having the training to perform some of the specialized needs of area employers. He sees opportunity to help close the gap through increased emphasis on career counseling in schools. He's hopeful that the state's investment in a new reading assessment, called Istation, will help more Idaho students reach the proper reading level by third grade, thereby getting their educations off on the right track.
In his first term, Manwaring introduced legislation aimed at addressing a problem he sees with Idaho's campaign finance rules. Idaho is one of two states in which elected officials aren't required to disclose personal financial information to avoid the potential for conflicts of interest. He hopes to amend and move forward with his legislation, which would require financial disclosures, in the next session.
Manwaring is "leaning no" on a proposition on the election ballot that would allow for the return of wagering on machines that pool bets on historic horse races. He worries the proposition would result in a constitutional challenge. Abernathy supports the proposition, which he believes would lead to jobs and revenue for the economy.
It's likely that the state will mull a repeal of the grocery tax during the upcoming session. Manwaring opposes a repeal, based on the loss of revenue to the state's general fund. Abernathy supports a repeal.
The legalization of marijuana may also surface as an issue. Manwaring has voted to support legalizing cannabidiol oil, derived from marijuana, for its medical benefits. He opposes legalized recreational marijuana. Abernathy supports medical marijuana and is open to the idea of allowing recreational marijuana for the economic benefits.
Both candidates touted their abilities to work with people of the opposing party. Abernathy said he supports abolishing political parties.