Around this time of any year ending in an even number, plenty of news stories declaim how changed the next legislature will be, once the election is held, with retired or defeated or office-shifted lawmakers no longer there.
The excellent Idaho Ed News, for example, just noted how the legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which drafts the state budget that the Senate and House floors (usually, not always) rubber-stamp, “could look almost completely different next year … At a minimum, four of JFAC’s 20 current members will be out next year. Depending on primary election results, as many as 15 of the committee’s 20 members could all be new next year.”
The article isn’t wrong, and its point could be made about many of the legislature’s committees, or the Senate and House themselves. There have been many reports of various lawmakers retiring or running for something else - not least the long-serving House speaker (running for lieutenant governor) and another prominent House member who’ll be competing with him in the primary.
But how different will the legislature be in 2023? Here I feel like a runner rounding a familiar bend in the track: Once again, as in many cycles for years past, you’ll likely see little real change.
You can start with the partisan balance in the legislature, which currently runs 28 Republicans to seven Democrats in the Senate, and 58 Republicans to 12 Democrats in the House.
The recent district reapportionment may change those numbers a little but not much. The two districts that jump out to me as maybe most likely to yield partisan changes are likely to do so only at the margins, and seem to cut in opposite directions. (The new District 6, centered on the Moscow area with a slice of Lewiston, maybe helps Democrats a little. And the new District 26, which unites Blaine and Jerome counties, improves odds for Republicans in a district long dominated by Democrats.) Statewide, redistricting doesn’t seem likely to much benefit either party.
The more-recent candidate filings reinforce the point.
Some changes in candidacies still might happen with write-in candidacies, but as matters sit Democrats already have ceded control of both the Senate and the House to the Republicans. Just 13 Democrats have filed for the Senate’s 35 seats (that must be one of the lowest numbers ever), and only 34 of the 70 seats in the House. (They have conceded every Senate seat north of Ada and Canyon counties, save one.) If Democrats won absolutely every race they’ve now filed for, which of course won’t happen, or come close, they still would be in a distant minority.
A side note: Some of these conceded-Republican seats do feature minor-party or independent candidacies, but since no one other than a Republican or a Democrat has been elected to the Idaho Legislature in nearly a century, there’s not much reason to expect something different this time barring a strike of political lightning.
The Republicans, be it noted, have done something remarkable: Unless my eyes misled me in scanning the lists, they appear to have filed at least one candidate for every single seat in the 105-member Idaho Legislature, including those few where Democrats seem prohibitively strong. As best I can tell (someone correct me if they find any exception) neither party has until this year managed that in the last half-century.
What this most immediately means is that continued overwhelming control of the legislature by Republicans is highly likely to continue, and a scan of the candidate lists shows no indication its overall thrust and direction will be much different. If you like what the Idaho Legislature is now, or if you don’t, well, either way, you’re almost certainly in for more of the same for the next two years.
Democrats did file for all of the congressional and statewide offices, albeit their chances in nearly all cases are iffy.
Next year’s legislature will have plenty of new faces. But you may have a hard time telling the difference.