• 100 Influential Idahoans 2015
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Edging back


Whatever will Idaho do for viral quotes next legislative session? The most reliable providers won’t be back, and neither will a number of their allies. Or newcomers to the task.

The Republican primary election on Tuesday yielded a persistent theme in its results among challenged races. The more extreme insurgent candidates, whether incumbent or challenger, tended to lose to the more establishment conservative alternative.

You can find no better case study than in Coeur d’Alene’s District 4, where the House seats were held by one from the insurgent group – Kathleen Sims – and one from the establishment conservative group, Luke Malek. (The Senate seat, held by Mary Souza, was unchallenged.) Malek, challenged by an insurgent, won his primary with 58.4%. Sims, challenge by an establishment conservative, lost hers at 48.4%

There’s Sheryl Nuxoll, the three-term senator from Cottonwood whose statements have gone as viral as anyone’s. Remember the Holocaust/health insurance exchange comparison, the “false faith with false gods” of Hinduism, and so many other greatest hits? This time she lost (48.8%), a result probably not widely expected. Likewise the bigger loss in the same district by Shannon McMillan (38.7%), known for her frequent votes against spending on education without explaining why.

The theme was repeated up and down the state, not in every instance but in enough to make the trend line clear.

Up along the Canadian border the new co-chair of the legislature’s budget committee, Shawn Keough, has faced insurgent challenges for several cycles, and the margins have been getting closer. Still, in possibly the highest-profile legislative primary this year, she again survived (with 55.7%) another determined effort this year.

Runner up among top primaries may have been in west Boise’s district 15, where relatively new establishment conservative Representative Patrick McDonald was challenged by Rod Beck, who has been active in Republican politics for a long time (more than a quarter-century ago, he was state Senate majority leader) but is allied with the insurgents on the right. McDonald won, decisively (57.9%).

Other serious insurgent challenges fell short too, to Representatives Kelley Packer in Bannock County (she had blasted the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s legislative index), to Maxine Bell (Keough’s House budget chair counterpart) and Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls.

Here’s another useful measure. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, more or less Idaho’s lead “establishment conservative” (with his own primary challenge two years ago to show for it), recently took the unusual step of endorsing a dozen Republican legislative candidates contested in the primary, some incumbents and some challengers, but all (obviously) on his side of the fence.

Of that dozen, which included three challengers and nine seriously challenged incumbents, eight won, and one of the others lost only by a hair. Election night wasn’t bad for Otter on the legislative front.

If the 2014 primary election was something close to an overall holding action in the internal battle among Idaho Republicans, this year’s election marked some definite ground gained by the establishment.

Does that make Idaho an outlier in the national Republican picture? More thoughts on this to come.

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