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ID: Primaries to legislate by

The new blog Paleomedia at Boise last month did what we typically do here – picked out 10 top legislative primary contests in the Gem State. It was a reasonable list and worth your review (at the link), though there have been a few shifts of circumstance since, and we have a few alternative views. So, this list of 10 notable primary contests: Not in order of likelihood of incumbent ouster or the like, but rather in terms of interest – how much the results may tell us.

There are 29 contested primaries in Idaho (not a high number when the excuse given for sweeping Republican dominance is that, well, the primaries function for the sifting out. Well no, not very well.) We’ll note PaleoMedia ranking too. Incumbents marked with *.

bullet 1 – District 14 House A: Mike Moyle*, Star; Nancy Merrill, Eagle. (PM: not listed) This admittedly is a little weird, since Merrill has practically no chance of winning: She is a write-in candidate, and just recently announced as such. What’s curious here (would be interesting to look inside her mental processes) is that Merrill, a former mayor of Eagle (the major community in this district) was apparently considering a serious on-ballot run against Moyle, the House majority leader, before dropping out of that. Maybe this gets too subtle for interest by anyone but the poli sci crowd, but we’ll be watching to see just how many write-in votes – meaning, how many in-party protesters to Moyle and his rural-based approach to legislating – Merill does get.

bullet 2 – District 3 House B: Phil Hart*, Athol; David Rawls, Hayden. (PM: listed) The hard-core anti-tax crowd among Idaho Republicans elected a legislator close to their heart to the U.S. House last cycle, and maybe the legislator closest to them now is Hart, a serious anti-taxer who has battled over his own taxes with the IRS. (A rousing endorsement quote from Bill Sali is prominent on Hart’s main web page.) His opposition comes from Rawls, formerly a school district superintendent – not usually the kind of resume GOP primary voters warm to. Here again, Hart is favored (he’s had a number of primary challenges before) but the results in this race may serve as a localized measure of Sali-style politics.

bullet 3 – District 14 Senate: Stan Bastian*, Eagle; Henry Kulczyk, Boise; Saundra McDavid, Eagle; Chuck Winder, Eagle. (PM: listed) So does that mean all we have are picky little curiosities, and no real hard-core battles with serious differences at stake? Not at all. All four of these candidates are actual “name” politicians, known and established in the area, with extremely distinctive bases of support. McDavid nearly won the mayoralty of Eagle last year, running as a sharp critic of wide-open development. Kulczyk is a former House member maybe best known for his involvement with the 10 commandments statuary, and other social issues; he has remained visible as a local TV commentator. Winder has a long record with the Ada County Highway District, the state Department of Transportation and unsuccessful runs for governor and mayor of Boise, and he’s developed substantial respect in the downtown political community, but he is on a controversial side in the highway funding battle. Bastian, the incumbent, may have the least distinct constituency of any of them, but he hasn’t been controversial, either, and besides two terms in the legislature has local government experience to draw on. (Bastian has the Idaho Statesman endorsement, for whatever it may be worth.) He’s probably favored here; but all three of the others will have voting blocs too. Precinct results in this one definitely need to be mapped.

bullet 4 – District 20 Senate: Shirley McKague*, Meridian; Mark Snodgrass, Meridian. (PM: listed) Snodgrass has been quoted: “I’m more of a problem-solver instead of an idealogue.” That’s the distinction – McKague as a reflexive anti-tax, anti-government vote, while Snodgrass’ view is less doctrinaire and are aimed at grappling with such as issues as higher education needs, transportation and air quality. (Snodgrass is a House member in this district.) McKague’s simple rejections along these and other lines seems to have sold well enough in the Meridian area so far, or at least she has gotten consistent re-elected with substantial margins. Is the simple rhetoric wearing thin, or is it all a legislative candidate ever needs to memorize? Watch this race.

bullet 5 – District 18 House A: Julie Ellsworth, Boise; Gail Hartnett, Boise. (PM: listed) 18A has two levels of interest, one for the primary and one for the general. In the general, this is one of two seats (House 16B is the other) where Republicans are most likely to make the strongest push to regain some of the Boise turf they ceded in the 2006 election. The view of a number of Republicans is that the Democratic incumbent here, Branden Durst, may be the most beatable. (We don’t happen to share that view.) So the Republican nominee here will be on the leading edge of the Republican pushback. But will that be (a) Ellsworth, a former legislator and lobbyist and very much a part of the state Republican insider structure and close to House leadership, or (b) Hartnett, a realtor (supported by that group) and endorsed by another former legislator, Debbie Field, but more of an outsider and thought to be less doctrinaire. Hartnett has the Statesman endorsement. An intriguing choice for the southeast Boise Republican community as they scramble to take back a seat here before Democratic control of it sinks in.

bullet 6 – District 1 Senate: Shawn Keough*, Sandpoint; Donald Heckel, Laclede. (PM: not listed) Up in the Panhandle an unusual issue has arisen: Water, and the efforts by the state (which we see as appropriate) to extend the water rights and adjudication system there. That has led to blowback from residents concerned about what that may mean, and legislators like Keough who pushed for the adjudication (now favoring slowing down the process at least) have been caught in the middle. Keough has had no tough re-election runs in a decade; could water create serious problems for her in the primary this time? Heckel, we should note, also emphasizes a string of social issues (he bills himself as “the conservative choice”), and those could figure into the equation too.

bullet 7 – District 10 House A: Curt Bowers*, Caldwell; Pat Takasugi, Wilder. (PM: listed) Remember Bowers – the newly-appointed legislator who wrote the opinion piece talking about how communists in 1992 were talking about taking over the country by weakening its social fiber, and how the country has since done just what they wanted? It got quite the round of attention, including that of Takasugi, the former state agriculture director (and Wilder farmer), who eventually filed against Bowers. On most floor votes, the two probably wouldn’t differ much. But there would be a difference in world view: You haven’t much heard Takasugi engaging in de facto conspiracy theories. Takasugi is self-described as a “common-sense conservative – not one of those other strange labels our there.” At a forum, Bowers remarked “in response to a question about saving the planet, that he lets his car idle a little extra in the mornings in order to give the trees a little extra CO2. The comment garnered some laughs until it became obvious that most of the other candidates agreed with him.” In the 10th, we suspect the Republican primary voters will lean toward Bowers. (Take that commentary as you will.) But this will be interesting.

bullet 8/9 – District 31 House A: Marc Gibbs, Grace; Neal Larson, Preston; Rex Steele, Preston. House B: Tom Loertscher*, Iona; Al Harrison, Fish Haven; Elliott Larsen, Preston; Nancy Nead, Tetonia. (PM: one listed, one not) Theoretically, you could start in reapportionment of Idaho legislative districts from the southeast, and work to the north, but that’s harder, so hardly anyone does; and that means the poor district in the southeast corner gets thrown regional scraps, precincts here and there sufficient in number to meet the population requirements – even though large parts of the district aren’t really connected or linked. While Senator Robert Geddes of Soda Springs (the Senate president pro tem) has not had election problems here, the House members and seats have turned over regularly. Not between parties – this region is all solidly Republican – but between counties and communities battling it out for representation. The one House incumbent on the ballot, Loertscher, is one of the most senior House members, but geographically located far away from most of the people in the district. So he draws opposition from the counties far to the south. And in the other, open, seat, two counties will be compete. The process begins anew in 2010.

bullet 10 – District 11 House A: Steven Thayn*, Emmett; Gary Bauer, Nampa; Matt Beebe, Caldwell. (PM: listed) We’ve mentioned Thayn in the context of being maybe the most extreme (on social issues) of any Idaho legislator (and yes, that’s going some), and ordinarily we’d guess a primary contest from a strong opponent could take him out. The problem here is that Thayn has not one but two strong opponents, in a former legislator (Bauer) and a former Canyon County commissioner (Beebe), each with their own strong bases of support. In that context, Thayn may be favored. If he loses, maybe we all learn something about that corner of the world.

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