Writings and observations

Legislature under the radar

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

All 105 Idaho state legislative seats are up for election next month, and if that was all you knew, you might assume wholesale change at next year’s session. The legislature isn’t all that popular, right?

There will be, of course, few changes. Many seats are unchallenged, or barely challenged. Even by the modest standards of recent elections, we’ll see few Idaho legislative races even of much interest, let alone competitive. Surprises happen, and every election features a few. But a handful (all for House seats, none in the Senate) are worth your attention as the campaign rounds the last turn.

Just one district has as many as two of these notable races: District 5, for both of its House seats. This is a rare legislative district where the House delegation is split. Republican Cindy Agidius and Democrat Shirley Ringo, both of Moscow, hold those seats. Ringo’s is open, with her run for the U.S. House instead, while Agidius is running for re-election.

This Latah-Benewah area is a politically marginal district. Moscow provides one of the stronger Democratic bases in Idaho, and Democratic votes can emerge from the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Benewah, but the rest of the counties run Republican. Substantial campaigns here have to be taken seriously, and both seats are seriously contested. Democrat Paulette Jordan, who lost to Agidius by only 123 votes in 2012, is back again, working hard and apparently outspending the incumbent. The open seat race, between Republican Caroline Nilsson Troy of Genesee and Democrat Gary Osborn of Troy (with independent David Suswal of Deary in the mix), also has a competitive feel.

The single most significant legislative race in Idaho surely is for House A in the west Boise District 15, where third-time legislative candidate Democrat Steve Berch is opposing incumbent Lynn Luker. You could point out that Berch has lost twice before and Luker is a well-established four-term incumbent Republican, liked in his party, in a district that has elected only Republicans for two decades.

But Berch earlier this year won a seat on the Boise Auditorium District board, which strengthens his hand, and he is a relentless campaigner building on a strong campaign effort two years ago. His particular skills, and intensity, may work better aimed at an incumbent; and Luker has become more controversial recently with his introduction of bills he describes as promoting religious freedom. All this is important because District 15 may be on the cusp of becoming a purple district, located as it is next door to the string of deepening blue Boise districts. If Berch wins, the door could be kicked open.

Three other races merit quick mention.

One is the open House B seat in District 10, where Republican Greg Chaney, whose legal issues over the years were severe enough that he withdrew from the race before the primary election. His name appeared unopposed on the ballot, however (two write-ins were unable to gather more votes) and he is his party’s standard-bearer in a deep red Canyon County district. Is the R enough? Probably, but this will be a serious test.

Another is in District 24 at Twin Falls, where prominent incumbent Republican Stephen Hartgen is being challenged by a well-connected and energetic Democrat, Catherine Talkington; her husband Chris is a veteran Twin Falls City Council member. North of there, in the Democratic-leaning District 26 centered around the Wood River Valley, Republican Steve Miller won an upset two years ago and this year will be challenged by Democrat Richard Fosbury, a former Olympic gold medalist (high jump) and an engineer by profession.

Idaho’s legislative races overall may not grab a lot of attention on election night. But the outcomes are likely to have something to say.

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