Senate hopefuls share differences in debate

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Vying for election to the Idaho Senate in District 4, Kristi Milan, left, and Mary Souza answer questions Friday during a debate hosted by the Kootenai County Democratic Club in Coeur d’Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE — Democrat Kristi Milan and Republican Mary Souza handed off the same microphone during Friday's Idaho District 4 Senate debate at the Ironhorse, its cord tangling between rebuttals.

The two may have shared the single mic, but they didn't share many views when fielding a cache of questions from moderator Tamara Poelstra.

In front of around 60 spectators during the Kootenai County Democratic Club’s regular meeting, the two debated on a range of issues including health care, education and urban renewal.

Milan, challenging the incumbent Souza, wholeheartedly supports federal funds through Medicaid expansion to finance what she said was a unique system of health care the state has developed but has yet to adopt.

Milan, who taught in the Coeur d'Alene School District for 17 years before retiring, thinks Idaho deserves a much better health care system.

"We have 78,000 Idahoans who are going without health care who are suffering for it and we need to do something," Milan said. "But we have the ability and we have the bill in Boise that will do it right. Our citizens that are in the gap deserve this. I have a friend who is a father raising his child, He works hard, but he's in the gap and has a $6,500 deductible. How do you afford that? He just found out that he has a 24 percent increase in his insurance.”

Souza, who is seeking a second two-year term, agreed Idaho health care needs improvement, but she thinks it can get there by different means.

"The Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable," Souza said. "Expanding Medicaid, which if you do any research on the Medicaid health care delivery system, it has always been designated as one of the worst, because Medicaid, the way that it operates, is open to corruption more than others and is not good for patients.

"...We need to create a system that honors the patient, protects the doctors and delivers personalized health care for the people in that gap."

Multiple questions were thrown to the candidates in the realm of education, one asking what they can do to make education more viable in Idaho considering it ranks near the bottom in student funding.

"You can't always equate the number of dollars spent with the quality of education and if you think you can, it's an insult to our good teachers," Souza said. "We have great teachers and the cost of living here is different than living in other areas in the country. Just remember that Washington, D.C., spends the most per student and has the lowest scores, so there's not always a direct corollary between the two.

“We have been working (in the Senate) on innovative ideas. One of them is the literacy bill that we passed last year and it is giving additional funding to the schools for education for reading and education for children in kindergarten and third grade. Because research shows that if children can't read at grade level really dooms them a stellar experience in school and then they may not want to go on."

Milan believes preschool, all-day kindergarten classes and smaller class sizes — all of which cost additional money — are very important.

"That's where school districts with more discretionary money can decide for themselves how they can use that money and where their needs are," Milan said.

"...Smaller class size is the key. I was talking to a teacher the other day who has a second grade class with 29 students. Little second-graders that we need to be teaching to read and to work together. We need to take the focus off of this testing, testing, testing and go back to the learning and understanding the individual needs of the children."

On the subject of urban renewal, Souza, who served on the Legislature's interim Urban Renewal Study Committee, joked she should have had the floor for 15 minutes on the subject.

Souza said she has worked with Mayor Steve Widmyer on urban renewal issues in Coeur d'Alene.

"The gist of all that is that he was able to de-annex portions of the urban renewal districts to bring $600,000 of tax revenue back to the city," Souza said. "And that's the money I believe is going to help pay for the new fire station over on Atlas and it won't raise your taxes."

Milan said Souza has been working against urban renewal in Coeur d'Alene for a long time. She noted Souza opposed using urban renewal money to build McEuen Park.

"We need to stop and think about what our city would look like if she had been successful," Milan said.

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