Popkey’s 2012 Idaho Legislature tout sheet, handicapping eight top races

UPDATE, April 10:

I mistakenly assumed that the Bert Marley who is honorary chairman of the Dave Finkelnburg campaign is former Sen. Bert C. Marley, now a lobbyist for the Idaho Education Association. I got a call from Bert C. this morning. His father, former Sen. Bert W. Marley, holds the honorary post. My apologies.

In this morning’s column I wrote about whether Democrats can overcome the drag on the ticket emanating from the White House.

I didn’t have space to elaborate on the eight key legislative races I’ve identified across Idaho. Nor did I share the cool data on legislative shifts in years with a White House incumbent on the ballot. (Given the length of this post, I’ll handle that in a subsequent post).

At least one reader – District 22 House Democratic candidate Sharon Fisher – asked for more. (Thank you, Sharon, though you’re not among the eight!) I hope this post can become a forum for observers around the state, especially those who see tight races in other spots.

Democrats, who hold 20 of 105 legislative seats, are defending in two of the eight races. Republicans, defending 85 seats, have six apparent vulnerabilities.

The GOP could pull off a huge psychological and organizational victory by winning two seats in Bannock County.

The most dicey for the Dems is retiring Sen. Diane Bilyeu’s rural District 28 Senate seat. The two House seats are now held by GOP Reps. Ken Andrus of Lava Hot Springs and Jim Guthrie of McCammon.

The popular Guthrie looks like the favorite over Democrat Dave Finkelnburg.

Guthrie first has to get by Rusty Barlow in the May 15 primary. Barlow, who served in the House from 1977-82, looks a little long in the tooth next to Guthrie, a rancher and business owner who carried 60 percent of the vote in 2010.

Finkelnburg, a professional engineer, has a great resume: potter, city councilman, logger, miner, forest lookout, fire fighter, hod carrier, journalist and gardener. He also has former Sen. Bert W. Marley -- the elder of the former two Bert Marleys who served in the Legislature -- as his honorary chairman. Democrats can’t afford to let this one go, but if you’re a betting person, put money on Guthrie.

The second Bannock seat in play is the domino that fell when Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, decided to retire after a decade. To replace Malepeai, Democratic Rep. Roy Lacey will face the winner of the GOP contest between Terry Andersen and Greg Romriell. Andersen got 45 percent against Malepeai in November. Lacey, who won 58 percent in 2010, should win in November and he’s not on my list of eight.

But Lacey’s attempt to move to the Senate opens up his District 29 House A seat, which could become one of the most interesting contests anywhere.

Democrat Nate Murphy, 22, won an upset race for school board last year and now hopes to become the second openly gay candidate to win a seat in the Idaho Legislature.

The retirement of Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour from her seat in Boise to run for Congress against 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson means Murphy could get some of the national money that flows to gay candidates. The downside: Running as a gay man in Pocatello is a different proposition than doing so in Boise’s left-leaning North and East Ends.

Murphy’s GOP opponent in the general will either be Dave Bowen or Brian Nugent, both of whom have experience from two years ago. Bowen got 47 percent against Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, last go-round; Nugent got 42 percent against Lacey. Independent Bob Croker could prove a spoiler, only whose soup he might sip is unclear.

Now for the GOP weak spots.

Kootenai County’s District 2 is among the half-dozen most Republican strongholds in the state. But if tax scofflaw and timber thief Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, wins a four-way GOP primary, it’s game on.

Democrat Dan English is a licensed professional counselor and popular former city councilman, school board member and county clerk, who was president of the Idaho Association of County Recorders and Clerks. English is the sort of common-sense Democrat who used to win in North Idaho and enough embarrassed Republicans might be willing to vote D to end the Hart farce.

Former GOP Rep. Ron Vieselmeyer could give Hart trouble because of lingering name ID, but a four-way race always favors the incumbent. If party elders have any sense, they’ll be pressing for a further thinning of the GOP ranks. (Hayden City Councilwoman Jeri DeLange dropped out last week, citing the crowded field.) The other GOP hopefuls are real estate appraiser Ed Morse and firefighter Fritz Wiedenhoff.

The open District 5 House A seat being vacated by moderate GOP Rep. Tom Trail of Moscow sets up a likely November contest between well-known Republican Cindy Agidius of Moscow and Democrat Paulette Jordan, a dynamic member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe from Plummer.

The Latah-Benewah district is dominated by Latah, which should help Agidius, but Jordan is seen as a real comer by Democrats. Jordan has to beat Jim Stivers in the primary; but Stivers is a former Ron Paul Republican and Jordan should dispatch him easily.

West Boise’s District 15 Senate contest for the seat being vacated by moderate GOP Sen. John Andreason will test whether Democrats can expand their reach in Ada County.

Democrat Betty Richardson, a former Ada County Democratic chairwoman, was the architect of Democratic gains in the 1980s. She was on the Idaho Industrial Commission, served as Bill Clinton’s U.S. Attorney for Idaho and ran against now-Gov. Butch Otter for Congress in 2002.

She’ll face Fred Martin, a businessman who has support across the GOP establishment and has been working tirelessly for months. The district has tilted slightly more Republican after redistricting, so Martin appears to have an edge. But if Richardson is committed to the race and works as hard as she has in the past, this will be fun to watch.

Another retirement in District 15 House B by a GOP moderate, 20-year-veteran Max Black, opens the door for a hard-working Democrat, Steve Berch.

Berch, vice president of the West Valley Neighborhood Association, ran hard in 2010 in the heavily GOP District 14 but got just 32 percent of the vote for his effort. But Democrats think they can win in the new 15, where GOP education reforms and ultrasound mandates may not be so popular.

Facing Berch in November will be either Curtis Ellis, whose wife, Kris, is a former North Idaho lawmaker and now lobbyist; or Mark Patterson, a longtime party activist and businessman.

Two possible rematches in Southeast Boise’s District 18 could test whether the 2011 school reforms and the ultrasound flap changes anything.

Freshman GOP Sen. Mitch Toryanski was an outspoken supporter of Senate Bill 1387, and one of a handful of lawmakers to attend a live demonstration of ultrasounds in a Senate committee room, part of the spectacle that prompted House Republicans to refuse the hear the bill. Last year, Toryanski survived a botched recall effort aimed at his support of GOP school reform.

Conventional thinking would hold that Toryanski’s challenger will be former Democratic Rep.
Branden Durst
, who lost to Toryanski by 103 votes in 2010. But Durst opposes abortion rights and has ticked off plenty of Democrats with his gadfly presence. Matthew Duncan has also filed as a Democrat and might have a crack at a primary upset, but as of yet has no presence on the Web and is not well known.

Watch the campaign finance reports for a clue on how the Toryanski-Durst matchup will go. Toryanski has about $42,000 banked, but has loaned his campaign about $39,000. He should have no trouble raising money for a solid race. Durst only has about $2,000 in reserve and his treasurer, Republican Ada County Commissioner Vern Bisterfeldt is fighting back problems.

The second District 18 rematch is for House seat A, with Republican Rep. Julie Ellsworth facing Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking.

In 2010, Ellsworth won by seven votes, after a one-vote shift in a recount. Ellsworth is considerably more conservative than this moderate district would suggest, but she’s been watching her votes. Ellsworth is among the House Republicans spared from having to vote on SB 1387. Both women are excellent campaigners and shouldn’t have any trouble motivating supporters given the margin in 2010.

That's all, Folks! Again, please let me know what you think and advise me of other races worth special attention.

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Hart is not a (D)

Hart is not a (D)

Thanks for the catch

Yes, Rep. Phil Hart is a Republican. My mistake.

Dan Popkey

Please don't handicap them more than they are...


"foreignoregonian" is not anonymous

It is my identity and my philosophy

Would you prefer everyone to be called 'Poster'?

I'm crushed. :)

Can't argue with any of your eight.

Thanks for the shout-out. :)

One correction, Dan...I don't think Murphy is "running as a gay

man". From what I can see, he is running as a Democrat. He is running as an advocate for education, good government and a good economy.

Other than LeFavour making his sexuality an issue, I don't think it has been an issue on his own agenda. From what I can see, he isn't denying his sexual orientation nor is he focused on it. I would hate for others to make his campaign about being gay it isn't what he is focused on.

Dan, plese don't let LeFavour impose her agenda on Murphy. Did people even know about him being gay before LeFavour decided to open her big mouth and make an issue of it? She needs to focus on her own race.

BC, LeFavour is FEMALE and we all know it.


"foreignoregonian" is not anonymous

It is my identity and my philosophy

Would you prefer everyone to be called 'Poster'?





"foreignoregonian" is not anonymous

It is my identity and my philosophy

Would you prefer everyone to be called 'Poster'?

I'm not real excited about the possibility of another

legislator whose spouse is a contract lobbyist. His wife lobbies for at least a dozen different clients....leaves too many openings for conflict of interest.


Agreed. The team of Smyser and Smyser was pretty discusting. Ms. Smyser's comment on Idaho Reports this week was laughable. To have us believe that she and husband Skip didn't discuss issues doesn't pass the smell test. I didn't just all off the beet truck Senators.

They are not handicapped candidates!

They sre "politically challenged".


"foreignoregonian" is not anonymous

It is my identity and my philosophy

Would you prefer everyone to be called 'Poster'?