FORT HALL — The environment, education and mental health funding were three hot topics addressed by 17 local candidates at a voters forum in Fort Hall Monday night. A small group of Fort Hall residents attended the forum which was part of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe's "Rocking the Native Vote" campaign — an effort to encourage Native Americans to exercise their voting power.
When the issue of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FMC superfund site came up, Mark Trahant, moderator of the forum asked the group "How many of you think the EPA is right in their decision to cover up the site without a plan?" None of the candidates or audience members raised their hands.
Senate candidate Dave Finkelnburg said, "FMC got away with as much as they could...for as along as they could. That site will not be any good for future economic development."
State Representative Idaho Lorax called Bannock County [home of the FMC superfund site] a contaminated community with a hospital that feeds off of a sick population. "When will we decide that lives are important?" he asked. "I know the cancer statistics around here. Do you?"
Nicole Le Favour, candidate for Congress, said, "There's some terrible contamination issues. The EPA is not perfect and is inadequately funded. Without adequate funding it will create further crisis in the community."
An audience member asked the candidates, "What can be done about mental health funding and the lack of some desperately needed programs?"
Bingham County State Senator Democratic candidate and former Blackfoot High School teacher, Cherie Clawson, took a strong stand for education and mental health funding saying, "Mental health is a huge issue for high school students. Teenage suicide needs addressed. When we cut funding for mental health we lose actual lives because we thought needed a tax break. We need to look at our priorities."
Le Favour agreed, saying, "This [mental health] has not been made an adequate priority and cutting these services will actually end up costing communities."
It was brought up at the forum that Idaho ranks 49th in the country when it comes to funding for schools and that Bingham County is one of the highest taxed counties in the state because of the education budget shortfall.
On that subject, House of Representatives candidate Julie Van Orden of Pingree, said, "Snake River School District is the 'poster child' for underfunded schools; it is one of the poorest in the state right now; yet my husband is a property owner. If I'm elected I can listen and understand both sides."
When asked about past tax breaks for corporations that created cuts in other areas such as health care, some incumbents argued that the tax breaks were needed to create a climate of economic development.