CALDWELL — Two Japanese-American candidates, both with deep roots in Canyon County and a shared last name but no family relation, are competing to represent District 10 in the Idaho House of Representatives.
Julie Yamamoto, a Republican, and Rebecca Yamamoto Hanson, a Democrat, share a belief in the need to address education funding, property tax relief and bipartisanship in the next legislative session. They differ on allowing cities and counties to charge a local-option sales tax, and Yamamoto Hanson believes in increasing the minimum wage and getting rid of "dark money" in political campaigns.
Yamamoto, sister of Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto, was the only candidate in the Treasure Valley to defeat an incumbent candidate in the primary. She defeated second-term state Rep. Jarom Wagoner, R-Caldwell, by 623 votes. Yamamoto Hanson ran unopposed in her primary in June.
A NEED FOR BIPARTISANSHIP
Yamamoto Hanson said one of the reasons she's running for office is because she's tired of seeing only one candidate on the ballot for state legislative races in Canyon County.
"You so often see only one party represented on the ballot and you see moderates in the Legislature getting replaced by people who are more partisan, and it is difficult for people to think they have a choice," Yamamoto Hanson said. "I am a moderate in most things, and I would like to see more moderates stay in the Legislature."
She said that if elected she would hope to reach across the aisle and work with Republican legislators on measures that would benefit all Idahoans.
Yamamoto shares that belief in bipartisanship. She said if she were elected she would "actively seek to collaborate and find places we can agree on both sides of the aisle."
"I believe all Idahoans want an economically vibrant state and education system," she said.
The candidates also agree on the need to restructure education funding in Idaho. Both said that supplemental levies are not working for school districts.
Yamamoto, a retired educator, said supplemental levies don't seem to be "supplemental" anymore because of how crucial they are to a district's yearly budget.
Yamamoto Hanson voiced the same concern, saying that she can’t imagine how difficult it is for school districts to only be able to plan for funding every two years, the lifespan of a supplemental levy.
Both candidates have ties to Idaho's public education system. Yamamoto worked in the Vallivue and Caldwell school districts as a teacher and principal for 32 years before recently retiring. Yamamoto Hanson's mother was a teacher in the Middleton School District. Both graduated from The College of Idaho and Yamamoto went on the University of Idaho.
Yamamoto Hanson graduated with a bachelor's degree in music, with an emphasis in piano performance. After college she worked in manufacturing, the food industry, food service industry and the printing industry. After she married her husband, Rex Hanson, they spent over 27 years living in seven countries because of his work in the fossil fuel industry.
LOCAL CONTROL OF FUNDING
The two candidates also agree on the need for local jurisdictions such as county commissions, city councils and school boards to have more control over how taxpayer money is spent.
"I think sometimes the Legislature is good intentioned, but we often see a squelch to some local control of taxpayer money. I want to see the local school board have more of a voice," Yamamoto said.
Yamamoto Hanson said the same, adding that she believes local jurisdictions should have the authority to implement a sales tax in the county or city if voters approve.
Yamamoto said in her League of Women Voters candidate survey that she would not support local-option sales tax authority.
Yamamoto also mentioned if elected she would work on property tax relief, something the Legislature worked on last session but failed to pass any bills.
Yamamoto, whose father was a farmer in Canyon County, said she is proud of her Japanese heritage and the Japanese farmers who helped grow food in the Treasure Valley, but she said she doesn't think her heritage defines her.
"I do know there are people who believe that race matters, but when you spend time in public schools, you need to make sure everyone is important and that they know they are not a number and not a race, but an individual person that deserves nothing less than fair and equal treatment," she said.
Yamamoto Hanson was born in Pocatello and as a child moved to Caldwell, where she attended Caldwell schools and eventually graduated from C of I with a music degree.
Her father ran a small business in real estate and insurance in Caldwell and, like her opponent, both her parents came from farmworking backgrounds. Her grandfather immigrated from Japan when he was 17 years old and settled in Idaho 10 years later.
Yamamoto Hanson's father in 1959 was part of the effort from the Japanese American Citizenship League to remove Idaho’s anti-miscegenation law, which banned interracial marriage. The effort was bipartisan, and the law was removed that year.
She said her grandparents' experiences as Japanese immigrants in the U.S. during World War II fueled their sense of service and their feelings about the importance of community.
Yamamoto Hanson has also signed onto an initiative, called the American Promise, that is aimed at introducing a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that places limits on campaign contributions and undisclosed political donors. According to the American Promise website, the amendment would reverse the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision.
"I think that dark money funds a lot of politicians," she said, "and then they are beholden to these corporations and it turns into a racket."