Jake Ellis knows a thing or two about putting out fires, both literal and metaphorical.
"Prevention is way more cost-effective than response," said Ellis, 55, a retired battalion chief for the Boise Fire Department and now a candidate for the Idaho House of Representatives in West Ada County's District No. 15.
In fact, Ellis helped investigate the aftermath of a January Day 1992 blaze at the Idaho Statehouse.
"There were a number of reasons why that fire spread, but there was definitely a lack of planning," said Ellis.
Having worked much of his career at Boise Fire Station No. 5, the then-busiest station in the state, Ellis rose through the ranks from firefighter to driver, captain and finally spent six years as a battalion chief. In between stints of aggressive door-knocking campaigning, Ellis spent a few minutes with Boise Weekly to talk about his political motivations and a life of eating smoke.
Did you dream of being a firefighter?
Not really. I really wanted to go to college and, in between semesters, I spent eight fire seasons fighting range fires for the Bureau of Land Management. Some of those fire seasons lasted longer than others, stretching out my college career.
Why are you a Democrat?
I'm socially liberal but fiscally conservative.
So does that mean you've voted for as many Republicans as Democrats?
What do you consider to be your proudest votes?
[Governors] Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus.
And on a national level?
Obama. I believe in the message of change.
Are you leaning one way or another among the current crop of presidential candidates?
I'm a fan of Bernie Sanders. I like the idea of living in a free market society yet taking care of your fellow man... and woman.
To those who say Sen. Sanders is simply advocating for a redistribution of wealth, you would say...
There's already a redistribution of wealth. It's just gone to the wealthy.
You were with the Boise Fire Department for 27 years. When you hear a siren, does your blood still rush?
Not at all. That's when it's time to retire.
Every political insider I know has told me to keep an eye on District 15 and how it's ripe for change. That said, you're up against a rather popular incumbent, Rep. Pat McDonald. What's your path to victory?
My opponent supported House Bill 311 in 2015, a major tax cut for the wealthy, which would have taken nearly $70 million out of the general fund. It makes no sense to me to say you're in favor of improving education while taking that much money out of the general fund.
To that end, is education near the top of your agenda?
The cost of attending college is too high. To lower tuition cost, you've got to send in a lot more from the general fund.
Where is that money going to come from?
We leave way too much money on the table in tax exemptions and inappropriate expenditures. I am not saying I want to raise taxes. I'm saying we have to take a very hard look at our exemptions and prioritize the funds we have.
How about the issue of Idaho's minimum wage? It still sits at $7.25. Nationwide, they're talking about a $15 wage. Where should it be in Idaho?
I think $10 would be a good start.
But those efforts have died a quick death at the Idaho Statehouse.
Idaho is above ideology. The people of Idaho know what's true. Too often, the Legislature is out of touch with Idaho.
I would be remiss if I didn't ask about your wristband device tracking your every move.
My goal is 7,000 steps a day.
That's a challenge.
I'm up for more than one challenge lately.