Primary Preview: Daunting Challenge for District 20 Write-In Candidate

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He needs 50 voters. And not just any 50 voters. He needs 50 citizens that can request the right ballot, follow directions and spell correctly.

That’s what write-in candidate James Mace needs to make it on the 2012 November ballot as the Democratic challenger to District 20 Republican incumbent, Sen. Chuck Winder.

Write-in candidates don’t take an oath of office with the same regularity that Idaho seats go unchallenged. But Mace knows it can happen.

“Sen. Lisa Murkowski (of Alaska) did it and my name is a lot easier to spell,” Mace said. “Still, I know that Winder is going to challenge every single one of those votes.”

Mace said that if he already held a seat in the Idaho Legislature, he’d challenge many of Winder’s votes. Mace stepped into the race after Winder made national headlines by proposing a controversial measure that would have required all Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion.

“Women’s health care – that’s between a woman and her doctor. If I became senator of District 20, that’s not for me to legislate," said Mace. "And if that had been signed into law, it would have resulted in an expensive legal battle. And what would have been accomplished? Meanwhile, issues that were important to Idaho remained dormant.”

Mace, who describes himself as a fiscally conservative, live-and-let-live Republican turned Democrat thought the measure was beyond the scope of government. But the Army Guardsman and novelist with a penchant for service felt a moral obligation to see that Winder didn’t reclaim his seat unchallenged.

“If I didn’t stand up, who would? If I did not stand up, it would have gone against my personal ethics. And I was tired of being embarrassed,” Mace said.

“People have asked me if (Winder) knows his constituents at all. I can’t answer that. But if he knows his constituents and votes another way as he did with the ultrasound bill and tax cuts, then it shows that he doesn’t care. But I think (the votes) were born out of ignorance rather than actual malice. The consensus that I get from people is that the Legislature as whole is not responsive to people, they’re out of touch with people and they don’t care what constituents think,” Mace said.

Winder did not respond to Boise Weekly’s requests for an interview.

Mace, 36, grew up surrounded by the cornfields of Meridian and the reactionary conservative politics of the Meridian School District. He watched a new Meridian emerge as agricultural roots gave way to suburban sprawl.

“A lot has changed, but a lot has changed the same. There were once cornfields where my house is.”

Meridian’s growth somewhat parallels the evolution of Mace’s political ideologies. He remains rooted in ideas that defined his early thinking – fiscal responsibility, ethical accountability and community service. But he’s strayed from the dogmatic thinking of Republicanism to see the state’s most-pressing issues as an opportunity for people to come togeather to create nonpartisan solutions to stimulate job growth, improve education and protect personal privacy. If elected, Mace said he’d back measures similar to Boise Democrat Rep. Brian Cronin’s jobs package that proposed incentives to spur job growth and school funding bills that restore educational dollars and are crafted with input from educators.

“I think we need fresh ideas. I think we need pragmatism and a willingness to listen to the public. And we need more government transparency. If I can’t require it of others, then I can at lease set the example myself.”

Mace’s school days were touched by policies from a notoriously conservative school board that included teacher gag orders on sex education, chronic censorship of the student paper, which he later wrote for, and the threatened expulsion of three teachers who brought a lesbian speaker into a classroom.

“They weren’t trying to promote an agenda," said Mace. "They were just saying, ‘This is how it is.’ We don’t need to shelter kids from reality. This is something my parents taught me. Sheltering kids from reality doesn’t do them any favors. My take on just about anything is live your life, as long as you’re not hurting anyone.”

But it wasn’t Mace’s school days that sent him on the road of recovery from Republicanism. It took a war in Iraq.

“It wasn’t the Army that liberalized me. It was my experiences that made me search. We did our job and we did what we had to do. But when I came back, I was disillusioned. I didn’t know what to think,” Mace said. “Like so many, I felt like the war was a big lie. A lot of vets feel the same.”