An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Our signal in Bonners Ferry and Omak is seriously impaired due to weather— Learn more here.

David Nelson: A New Senator Represents Idaho's Latah and Benewah Counties

David Nelson

David Nelson is a new state senator in Idaho’s Fifth District. He’s an engineer and former owner of a software company who lives in Moscow. He’s a rare breed in the Idaho legislature, a Democrat who defeated a Republican incumbent.

“I found the campaign a lot easier than preparing for the session," Nelson said.

"For the session, you don’t really know your committee assignments until two or three weeks before the session and it’s not clear what rules or laws are going to come up before you in the session. So I spent a lot of time just talking to people in Benewah and Latah counties during the campaign, just trying to understand the issues they brought up. And then, once I learned about their issues, I tried to go into a bit more depth about that.

"For example, transportation is something I heard a ton about when I was out knocking on doors and it was mostly of the sense that our roads are maintained poorly and maybe we’re not getting our share of transportation dollars up here in northern Idaho. And from that, I went and talked to our highway commissioners to get their take," he said. "I looked and studied the different funding formulas on how the state distributes money, from where we take it in and the gas tax and registration and trucking fees and how it gets sent out to all of the different governmental entities that maintain the roads.”

That effort apparently paid off as Nelson was assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee.

On Nelson’s first official day in a legislative session, he heard Governor Little’s State of the State address and says he was pleased with the empty asis on education.

David Nelson: “If we don’t have a good educational system, we’re not going to have good jobs and so I think more investment in education at every level is important. In District 5, and really every legislative district in north Idaho, we compete for teachers with Washington state. My wife actually is a schoolteacher in the Pullman School District, for numerous reasons. One of them is because the pay is a lot better and so we really have to help our border districts so they can pay a competitive wage. With the McCleary decision and what the legislature’s done, there is a lot more money floating around for teachers’ salaries in Washington. If we’re going to pay a competitive wage and get the best teachers, we’re going to have to up our game there.”
Doug: “Forty thousand dollars would be the floor, the starting wage for a new teacher in Idaho. Do you think that’s high enough?”
David Nelson: “I think that’s certainly an improvement over where it’s been. I think probably one of the problems I’ve seen historically with our Republican supermajority is they care about education, but they’re just so darn cautious that we don’t spend fast enough and maybe there’s too much emphasis on a tax cut, like last year’s tax cut that’s got us in a little trouble or the grocery tax next year. We’ve really got to push the gas pedal down on education or we’re not going to have good workers and you see that in towns like St. Maries, where it’s hard to hire a millwright. Getting a good career technical education is hard. You’ve got to go to Coeur d’Alene. You’ve got to go to Lewiston. So I’d like to see us accelerate our spending, be more competitive with Washington state on teachers’ salaries. Even with what Governor Little’s proposing, we’re still leaving our districts to support really large supplemental levies to pay the teachers. Where I live, in Moscow, the supplemental levy is 40% of our operating budget, so even getting starting teacher pay to 40-thousand and putting four-and-a-half or five percent into the career ladder is just not cutting it. We’re trying. We’re just not keeping up with the competition.”

That’s Sen. David Nelson (D-Moscow), starting his first term. He says his top priority is to ensure Medicaid expansion is enacted in Idaho as the voters approved it in November. That means not instituting some sort of work requirement as a condition of receiving subsidized care. He and other Democrats have argued that would add a new and expensive bureaucracy to the state.