Idaho's top Democrat faces first opponent in 8 years, challenger seeks repeal of sin taxes

House Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston is in a redrawn district that helps Republicans and says he's working hard to fend off Ron Paul Republican Daniel Santiago, who advocates repeal of taxes on tobacco, beer, wine and spirits.

"I've built a campaign plan, I've been more diligent about raising money, I'm doing more canvassing and identifying voters so we can do absentee pushes at get-out-the-vote activities," said the retired physician who is seeking a fifth term.

With the retirement of Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai of Pocatello, Rusche, 61, is Idaho's highest-ranking Democrat. Knocking him off would immediately make the 27-year-old Santiago a GOP star.

"I love challenges," said Santiago, who is hoping support from a national group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, can help him overcome Rusche's financial advantage. Santiago said he's part of an RSLC push to elect Hispanic Republicans. He said the group has provided in-kind assistance so far.

Santiago is an information technology specialist for Ida Vend Broadcasting, which owns three radio stations in Lewiston and six stations in Moscow. He reported raising just $35 from two contributors through June 13. Rusche began 2012 with about $14,400 and has raised another $10,800 and has $16,900 in the bank.

Santiago should benefit from the addition of Lewis County to District 6, which for the last decade had been comprised of only Nez Perce County, where voters elected Democrats and moderate Republicans like former Sen. Joe Stegner. Lewis County is more Republican, though Rusche said he's been working hard to reach voters, attending Prairie Days in Nezperce, the Craigmont Picnic and Parade and Winchester Rodeo.

Santiago, who is called "Danny" by friends, has been a GOP precinct committeeman since being appointed in 2007. His libertarian leanings include calls for repeal of taxes on alcohol and tobacco and elimination of tax exemptions.

Santiago conceded that lifting sin taxes would stimulate sales of products with high social costs. "But that's a side effect of being fair and honest," he said. "Taxes were created for everybody or no one. Taxes shouldn't be created to punish a certain group, religion or ethnic base. And that's what sin taxes do, they punish a certain group."

His support of Ron Paul for president is something of a sore point. I had to ask three times before Santiago affirmed his support of Paul by name. First, he said, "That's my personal choice. Then, "I supported my candidate and it's unfortunate they didn't win."

Finally, I asked if he was ashamed to be a Pauler. "I'm not ashamed to say I supported Ron Paul. I've just gotten the feeling from most media outlets that nobody likes to paint any picture well of somebody who supported Ron Paul, that they're a crazy. It's quite frankly not the case. I've noticed even from Romney's camp, he's saying a lot of the same things that Ron Paul has said and saying to do the exact same things. He's just saying them a lot softer."

Santiago says he's supporting Romney as the GOP's nominee. "Frankly, he's far better than the alternative."

Rusche said he's well aware that defeating him would be considered a spectacular coup in some GOP circles, citing his rattling cages on ethics, support of a health insurance exchange and Obamacare and opposition to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's "Students Come First" laws.

But Rusche said Lewis County is more moderate than many think and Nez Perce County remains solidly moderate: "I don't know that Danny's a really good match for the district, but like I said, I'm not going to take it for granted."

You can follow Idaho Statesman Politics on Twitter.

1346266005 Idaho's top Democrat faces first opponent in 8 years, challenger seeks repeal of sin taxes Idaho Statesman Copyright 2014 Idaho Statesman . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

I don't think that the "sin taxes'

should be removed. However, I do think that religious institutions should lose at least 50% of their tax exempt status....Sunny...

Go get 'me, Dr. Rusche!

You are such a concientious legislator and a voice of reason. I don't always agree with you but you always seem willing to work for the good of the state regardless of party affiliation. Best of luck!

Maybe not remove the sin

Maybe not remove the sin taxes per se, but definitely remove the sales taxation of those taxes. It is highly irritating to have to pay sales tax on a product that already contains a healthy amount of taxation be it alcohol, beer, wine or cigarette. Definitely not fair either.


District 6 was Latah County. ( Gary Schroeder)
District 7 was Nez Perce County, where Joe Stegner was from, along with John Rusche.

That's correct, but Nez Perce-Lewis is now District 6

Good catch.

I thought it was confusing to say the district used to be District 7 and now is District 6.

Dan Popkey


Way past time to start taxing churches.Why should they get a free ride


If these are to be referenced as 'sin taxes', then there is an obvious moral imperative and judgement imposed by government upon the taxee. The State should never be involved in individual moral decisions that do not harm or affect any person other than the person involved. The State should never attempt to legislate morality---it only serves to decrease individual moral responsibility, and thereby limit and constrain individual freedoms.
As Thomas Jefferson would have said, "Duh".

Remove all sin taxes.....then what?

Eliminate all tax exemptions? What are the numbers?

Sin tax & Elimination of tax exemptions

"Taxes were created for everybody or no one" -Santiago

Yeah right, what planet is that done on!

So no homeowners exemption or write offs for kiddies, or businesses. Yeah this guys is not going to go very far. wonder if he still supports Ag subsidy in N. Idaho?

Oh and look, a republican that supports Romney. NO! Really?

Carnac says.... Rusche has this one.

Ron Paul is crazy

And Ron Paul supporters live in a fantasy world where they imagine an anarchistic society, where everything is privatized, would work. This libertarian utopia would make even basic services such as municipal sewage treatment only available to those who can afford to pay a monthly fee to a private enterprise. Everyone else would be free to use a bucket. Forget about clean air, clean water, and basic public health protection. If you are longing for a third world existence, go ahead and vote libertarian, or better yet, try living for a while in a third world nation or at least visit one so that you can find out for yourself what it's really like. These people are so caught up in their Ayn Rand inspired fantasy world that they have no connection to reality. It should be easy for Mr. Rusche to defeat such a candidate.

I'd love

to see you go one-on-one with Rand, or any philosopher of the modern era.
They would bark you into a hole from which you could not escape.
Rendered humility is always a preferred means of escape for your ilk.

Now there's a golden oldy,

Now there's a golden oldy, referencing Ayn Rand as a slam on a moderate Republican. Contrary to your ignorance, Ayn Rand was not a Republican nor a Conservative by her own admission. What you also have obviously failed to comprehend is that Ayn Rand was raised in your idyllic world of government control on all aspects of life and that was her reasoning for adopting her own philosophical view of the ignorance of those in support of the welfare state. Before you can even argue the concepts of reality maybe a further grasp on the handle would be in order.


The moderate republican is whom?

Joe Stegner

...the former Senate Assistant GOP leader, who resigned to become the lobbyist for the University of Idaho. (See above).

Dan Popkey