With just one week to go before Republicans in Idaho’s 1st District select a nominee to succeed three-term Rep. Butch Otter, the certain Republican gubernatorial candidate, signs are strong that the momentum is with Bill Sali, a 16-year state legislator and swashbuckling conservative. Although all six candidates are considered conservatives in a district where the Republican nod is tantamount to election, Sali is considered the favorite because of his pre-primary endorsements from local anti-tax groups and anti-abortion groups such as Idaho Chooses Life.
"That’s because I have been the acknowledged pro-life leader in the legislature and because I’m the only Republican candidate with a record in public office who can say he has never, ever voted for a tax increase — not the sales tax, income tax, not even a cigarette tax," Sali told me. "None of it."
Sali noted that primary opponent Robert Vasquez, the Ada County Commissioner, who has been profiled in the New York Times for his hard-line anti-illegal immigration stand, has voted to raise county property taxes. Similarly, Sali pointed out, two other primary foes, Skip Brandt and Sheila Sorenson, who are fellow state legislators, both aligned themselves with the Republican leadership in the legislature to support a proposed sales tax increase that Sali helped lead the opposition to. Running further behind in the race are Norm Semanko, head of the Idaho Water Users Association, and State Comptroller Keith Johnson, neither of whom has had to cast votes on taxes.
Thus, the primary to succeed Otter (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 95%) is a feast for conservatives, with each Republican attempting to identify himself as farthest to the right. Regarding Vasquez’s much-publicized identification with immigration, Sali pointed out that he also supports securing the borders, putting the military there and denying health care and public education to illegal immigrants. Would he favor deportation of those here illegally? "You bet," he told me, adding that he opposes the Bush-backed guest-worker program because "it’s an amnesty proposal."