Tuesday’s primary election is a study in what Idaho politics is all about right now: Much ado about not much for the Democrats in that contested races are about as rare as sightings of polar bears in the desert, while the Republicans have a number of contests that will likely shape the tenor of the 2013 Legislature.
With redistricting, many candidates now are in new districts with new constituents and, in some cases, running against other incumbents. The closed primary for the Republicans means that only registered Republicans can vote for Republican candidates. An element of intrigue for the Republicans is a number of races where moderate Republicans are challenged by opponents touting conservative credentials.
Perhaps the biggest race to keep an eye on, from a potential change in leadership point of view, is the race for senator in District 27. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, is the incumbent in that race. He is also the head of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC). His challenger, Douglas Pickett, Oakley, is backed by current Rep. Bob Nonini’s PAC. Nonini is attempting to switch from the House to the Senate in his north Idaho district.
Always-in-the-spotlight Rex Rammell, a seemingly career politician who has yet to hold office, is challenging incumbent Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, for the House in District 7. Rammell, who located to north-central Idaho in 2011, is hoping to cash in on support he received while challenging Gov. Butch Otter in the last primary election. McMillan has been very vocal against the EPA and environmental regulations she believes have hurt her home area in the Silver Valley, but is otherwise a fairly quiet legislator. Will this be the year Rammell finally gets elected?
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, chairwoman of the Senate House and Welfare Committee, who was moved to District 11 by redistricting, will be going against former Rep. Maurice Clements of Nampa. Clements is a libertarian-conservative running in a new district so it is anyone’s guess if he can give Lodge a good run. He and Gov. Butch Otter are also longtime friends. Perhaps that is what makes this race even more interesting; Otter has publicly endorsed Lodge.
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, is attempting to switch to the Senate in District 14. Hagedorn has served six years in the House and is a member of JFAC. His main opponent, Stan Bastian, a former legislator, was endorsed by the Idaho Statesman.
One of the more intriguing races of the day is in District 23, matching Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, and Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson. GOP-leaning PACs have poured money into the district to unseat Corder. Otter has endorsed Brackett. Corder, who is chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, is considered a much more moderate Republican than Brackett.
Rep. Ken Roberts in District 8 will have a tough fight on his hands, as House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, have both given thousands of dollars through PACs to his main opponent, John Blattler. Denney has been fairly mum on the issue, but Moyle made it clear he opposes Roberts, who may run against Moyle for his House majority leader post if he survives the primary challenge.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, may be known more for his tax troubles than his voting record. He will be running against three opponents, which may actually improve his chances of winning. If those three candidates happen to split up the opposition vote to Hart, he could survive the primary in District 3 without a majority of the vote.
Some other incumbent races to watch in the House include:
- Incumbent Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, in District 20, is running against Richard Dees and Chris MacCloud. All three candidates are from Meridian. Palmer is chairman of the House Transportation and Defense Committee.
- Incumbent GOPer Pete Nielsen from Mountain Home in District 23 is challenged by Matthew Bundy and Steven Millington. Some in the district feel Nielsen’s time is up, but don’t really point to any single issue as causing him trouble.
Other races to watch in the Senate include:
- Incumbent Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, in District 1, is challenged by Danielle Ahrens. Keough has seen some out-of-district money come into her district favoring her opponent.
- Incumbent Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, in District 2, is opposed by Mike Jorgenson, a former two-term state senator. Vick served as a legislator in Montana prior to moving to Idaho. The race is seen as a battle of the more moderate Jorgenson against conservative Vick.
- Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, is opposed by Jeff Nessett in District 6. Johnson was appointed by Otter to fill the term of Sen. Joe Stegner, who resigned from the office to become a lobbyist for the University of Idaho. Many Republicans supported Nessett at the time Johnson was appointed so this contested race was not unexpected.
- Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, is attempting to switch from the House to the Senate in District 8. He is running against Alan Ward and Terry Gestrin. Thayn gained a reputation in the House for a number of innovative approaches to K-12 education issues.
- Current Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, is challenged by newcomer Hubert Osborne in District 13. McKenzie and former Sen. John McGee of Caldwell admitted during the 2012 session to receiving state reimbursement monies for mileage and housing despite not being eligible for the money.