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Baseline 08: Idaho Legislature

Idaho legislative building

Idaho legislative building

It being that season again – yes, it’s the time of Lists – we have a few to close out the year. (Then we’ll have more lists next year. Gee.) Our point (excuse, if you insist) is that this is a reasonable point to pause and take stock of where we are or seem to be in Northwest politics – what it looks like as 07 slides into 08.

This is the first of four lists for the days upcoming, of what now look like some of the most noteworthy and watchable political contests to come: Three lists covering the legislatures of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, then one covering major offices for the three states, with 10 races each. The numbering logic in similar for all: These are the contests which, from this viewpoint, seem to have the most significance or analytical interest as we look to where Northwest politics goes from here. It isn’t a list of which seats will change parties (though we think there’s a good shot some of them will) or which incumbents are most endangered (among other things, some of these are open seats). Rather, it’s: Which contests stand to say the most about local and Northwest politics?

You may wonder if there are as many as 10 potentially significant Idaho legislative races for ’08; after all, aren’t Republicans essentially a lock to maintain a solid grip on the Legislature regardless? Well, yeah, probably. But there are places of potential or actual change, and places where politics is getting redefined. These races could matter even if the overall partisan balance in the Statehouse doesn’t greatly change.

One other highly cautionary note: There’s no candidate filing until March 10 (deadline March 21), so we don’t yet know for sure who’s running for any legislative seat. Could be that some of the reasons for interest in some of these races goes away by then. Just sayin’.

(The list is below the fold.)

1 House 14A: Incumbent, Mike Moyle, R-Star. This seat will not flip to the Democrats (you try coming up with the scenario doing that), but it may do a lot by way of defining what Ada County Republicans are about, and what motivates the people of western Ada – the fasted-growing and most population-adding corner of the state. Moyle has been a traditional rural-based hard-core anti-tax guy, opposed to such efforts as new regional mass transit planning and the new community college district, which are supported by much of the business and corporate community. Looks like he will have primary opposition from former Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill, a well-known figure in the area, who seems to have solid enough Republican cred but takes the opposing view on regional planning and infrastructure type issues. The recent loud talk in Eagle (which makes up a lot of this district) about growth will play heavily in this. Moyle was unopposed int he last two elections and won the 2002 general with 65.4%, but this sort of challenge for the House majority leader would be a new thing. Opinions vary about who would have the upper hand (we lean toward Moyle, but it’s a very debatable proposition). If Moyle-Merrill materializes, it would almost certainly be the key primary season contest in Idaho.

2 House 18A: Incumbent, Branden Durst, D-Boise. The biggest partisan political shift of 2006 in Idaho was in the city of Boise, when Democrats won a raft of state House seats in the city but beyond the areas immediately around the city’s core – in the southeast, on the bench, one in northwest Boise/Garden City. The partisan margins in those districts (16, 17, 18) has been close for most of the last two decades, with Democrats winning a few of these in the mid-80s or since, but mostly losing to Republicans. In 2006 Democrats ran the table with these seats, wiping out a bunch of Republican incumbents; next year, Republicans will be massing to try to take back as many as possible. Bullseye Number 1 for them will be the seat held now by Durst, and for several reasons. One is that his win was the closest (he beat Republican Debbie Field by 175 votes). He probably ruffled more Republican feathers last session than the others; and he’s the youngest of them by far. And he was the least expected of the ’06 winners. So this seat will be ground zero. But expect a big Republican push on all of these newly Democratic seats. Republicans are seeing Idaho’s largest city turn measurably Democratic, and they’re not going to want to allow that to lock in place.

3 House 11A: Incumbent, Steven Thayne, R-Sweet. There’s always one, at least one, Idaho legislator who is particularly and notably, well, controversial – just seems to be out there on the fringe. At the moment, that would be Thayne, who pops up in statewide headlines from time to time. (Remember his family study of a couple of months back?) He’s a lightning rod, to put it another way – and a bellwether. Last time around he ousted incumbent Republican Kathy Skippen in the primary on grounds she wasn’t socially conservative enough (the sides in the race certainly were honestly drawn). Don’t be surprised if another similar contest emerges this time, with who knows what results. (And will Democrats file someone for this seat? Didn’t last time, probably in part because of thinking that Skippen was a relatively “acceptable” Republican.)

4 Senate 8: Incumbent, Lee Heinrich, R-Cascade. For decades and decades, Valley County has been a strongly Republican place where Democrats almost never gained any purchase (and when they did – we’re going back to the mid-60s and earlier here – they tended to be more conservative than most Republicans of the day). In just the last few years that has begun to change, both in local elections and up the ballot, as the population mix in the McCall-Cascade corridor has changed, what with Tamarack and all the other developments there. District 8 includes Valley, and in the other major population base, Idaho County, local Democrats are better organized than in a quarter-century and surprisingly competitive. In 2006 Heinrich, a long-time Valley County clerk, was elected to the Senate with 51.6% – a race that would have been a slam dunk eight or 10 years ago. And Representative Ken Roberts, an ambitious Republican who has scored strong votes here in the past, got 53% that same year. This is a district to watch, and if Democrats recruit well some real alchemy may be possible in this rural area.

5 House 33A: Incumbent, Jerry Shively, D-Idaho Falls. This was one of the regional surprises of ’06. The Idaho Falls area hadn’t sent a Democrat to the legislature in almost three decades, had seldom even come close. But 33, the district lodged in the center of Idaho Falls, has been trending increasingly competitive; the urban feel of that area increasingly has been matching up with urban sensibilities elsewhere. To some extent, this race making Shively the lone Democratic legislator north of Pocatello and east of Sun Valley was a fluke: Veteran incumbent Jack Barraclough was slowing down and the subject of some irritation, and Shively was a well-liked long-time teacher locally. The race was close (Shively took 51.2%). But the other House race here was close too (Russ Matthews got just 53.4% over Democrat John McGimpsey). You can expect next year a real battle over the soul of this district, as both parties try to take out a House incumbent (while Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, the senator here, watches uneasily).

6 Senate 4: Incumbent, John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. The geographically small Coeur d’Alene urban district, a little like District 33 to the far southeast, has turned competitive the last few cycles, and the Democratic House member here, George Sayler, has become relatively secure. (Relatively.) The close race here last time involved the long-secure Republican senator, Goedde, who nearly lost his general election to Democrat Steven Foxx: Goedde won by 192 votes and maybe the good graces of two minor candidate wildcards. This district, and notably Goedde, seems an obvious Democratic target for 08.

7 House 15A: Incumbent, Lynn Luker, R-Boise. Assuming for the moment that Boise really is shifting and that the Democrats really are beginning to secure it, a question: Where do they go from there? There are no obvious answers, because Democrats have so far hit a wall when they leave city limits. But District 15, neighboring Boise and an older, more established suburban area which has routinely elected relatively moderate Republicans, seems a likely place to start. Newcomer Luker won his seat last year with just 55.2% over Democrat Jerry Peterson, a less than wow percentage for this area. He would be a logical expansion target for Democrats, although if veteran Senator John Andreason or Representative Max Black opt out next year, those open seats would be maybe more inviting.

8 Senate 7: Incumbent, Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. When Stegner won this Senate seat last decade, Nez Perce Republicans were in expansion mode, having already secured two House seats. This decade, they have been in retreat as Democrats have rebounded and Republican organization is (we’ve been repeatedly told) in shambles. Stegner has been the lone Republican here now for a couple of cycles, and just hanging on – he won with 52.7% in 2002, 51.5% in 2004, 51.2% in 2006 (not a good trend line). This remains a seat at risk, the extent of which may depend on Democratic recruiting and organization.

9 House 29A: Incumbent, Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs. At the other end of the state, a somewhat comparable situation. In a Bannock delegation mostly made up of Democrats, Andrus won both the last two elections with less than 52% of the vote. Call it competitive.

10 House 1A: Incumbent, Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake. And here’s an incumbent who was held to less than 51% in both of the last two elections, by the same Democratic opponent, Steve Elgar (who, to be sure, ran a particularly energetic and well-funded campaign both times). Could be that Anderson has by now weathered the storm; and that would be our guess. But attention should be paid to two results in a row that close.

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