The Senate in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Political observers predict the Idaho Legislature will move to the right and become more politically conservative after several establishment Republican incumbent legislators lost their primary election races Tuesday.
Even though Idahoans rejected the more extreme, farther right candidate in four out of five top-of-the-ballot statewide Republican primary races, that pattern did not hold at the local level, as 19 incumbent Republican legislators were defeated in their districts.
Those defeats follow the decisions by several establishment Republican lawmakers to retire or not seek re-election this year.
“At the statewide level, the more establishment, traditional conservative Republicans were successful in most statewide races, with the attorney general’s race (won by former U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador) being kind of the outlier,” said Boise State University associate professor of political science Jaclyn Kettler.
“But when we move to the Idaho Legislature, we see some of the more conservative candidates being successful,” Kettler said.
Political scientist David Adler, who has taught constitutional law and political science at all three of Idaho’s public universities, said he expects the Idaho Senate to shift to the right and the Legislature to be emboldened by Labrador’s victory in the attorney general’s race. Labrador made a name for himself as a member of the Freedom Caucus, a farther-right contingent of the Republican Party, when he served in Congress.
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“Generally speaking, the overall election returns reflect a patchwork quilt of results,” Adler said.
“I think the Senate is going to be more conservative and won’t be the brake, or the check, on the House that it has been,” he said. “The House will probably remain the same, although it is not clear whether it will be a little more far right or not. That will depend on the personalities and issues that emerge.”
This year, the Senate either refused to hear or killed several bills that the House passed that would have made widespread changes to voting and voter registration laws.
The Senate also refused to hear House Bill 675, which would have made it a felony to provide gender reassignment surgery or hormonal therapy to a child, and didn’t act on House Bill 666, which would removed protections for librarians, teachers, professors and museum staff and would have made them liable for material that is “harmful” to children.
Going forward, Adler said he will watch to see whether that means more extreme legislation passes both legislative chambers and winds up on the desk of Gov. Brad Little — if Little wins the Nov. 8 general election in which he is heavily favored.
Adler pointed out that House Affairs Committee Chairman Brent Crane, a Nampa Republican who did not have a primary opponent this year, has already said he would hold hearings on bills to ban emergency contraception such as the Plan B pill or even IUDs.
“What will be interesting to see is whether Gov. Little represents a check on the Legislature or whether he works hand in glove with an increasingly conservative or far right legislative body,” Adler said. He added that Little’s decisive primary election victory over a far right challenge from Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin proves that Little does not need to cater to the far right or extremists to enjoy strong political support.
Idaho’s 2022 elections could be the most consequential elections in a decade
Even before this week’s primary elections, it was becoming clear that 2022 would be among the most consequential in years for Idaho, because of the way the outcomes will shape Idaho government for the future.
All of the state’s legislative and congressional districts were redrawn last year through the redistricting process, which used 2020 census population data to redraw political boundaries so they would be as close to the same size as possible. That forced some incumbents to run against each other, and moved other incumbents into new districts that weren’t as politically friendly to them.
On top of that, all 105 seats in the Idaho Legislature and all statewide offices — including governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction — were up for election this year.
Several comparatively moderate Republican members of the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee lost on Tuesday, including:
- JFAC co-chairman Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa
- Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville
- Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle
- Sen. Peter Riggs, R-Post Falls
- Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene
- Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell.
A couple of the more conservative JFAC members — Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, and Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird — also lost primary races Tuesday.
Those primary election losses are combined with the retirements of several other JFAC members who decided not to seek re-election after the 2022 session, including the other co-chair, Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, and Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello.
Altogether, that means at least 11 of the 20 members of JFAC from the 2022 session won’t be back for the 2023 session.
JFAC has been such a critically important committee, not only for generating budget bills but also acting with some wisdom in how to spend the state’s tax dollars. It is a committee that requires experience — not only experience, but expertise.
– David Adler, political scientist and president of the Alturas Institute in Idaho Falls
JFAC is the committee responsible for setting the state budgets, including the public schools and higher education budgets, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare budget and the budget for the Idaho Commission on Libraries. Ultra-conservatives have targeted all of those offices for budget cuts over the past two years.
Adler said the loss of incumbents and their replacement by new members could have effect starting next year.
“We will see if there are any more punitive attacks on higher education,” Adler said. “We will see how JFAC determines to fund K-12 education and what its position is on a variety of Health and Welfare issues.”
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