Idaho’s first closed primary had the potential to eliminate the remains of the moderate wing of the Idaho GOP. Last Tuesday that potential never came to fruition. Instead what we saw could best be described as mixed results. Even with party infighting and new districts for many incumbents due to redistricting the night saw few notable upsets.
The party infighting the GOP saw had limited electoral results. Much of this infighting resulted from the younger and more conservative house trying to eliminate fellow moderate GOP senators. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, along with Speaker Lawrence Denney and others donated to a PAC supporting Senator Ken Roberts opponent. Roberts, from Donnelly, won easily. Rep. Bob Nonini, CDA, gave money to the opponent of Dean Cameron, Rupert. Cameron easily survived the challenge.
It was thus not surprising Norm Semanko come out last Wednesday with a call for his party to unite after the primary. But calling for unity as an outgoing Party Chairman is easier said then done. More often than not this legislative session the Senate and House GOP were at odds. Several lawmakers described the situation as “toxic.” Even worse, the House GOP Caucus was split apart among the dominant conservative wing of the Caucus and the increasingly minority moderate wing. The Senate had to deal with the fallout from former Senator John McGee. Many Senators disliked how leadership had disregarded their opinions on keeping McGee in a leadership position.
There were a few notable losses from the night. In a match-up that pitted two incumbents against each other due to redistricting, Senator Tim. Corder, R-Mt. Home and Senator Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, Brackett won. Brackett is by no means conservative but he had the luxury of running against a badly damaged Corder. Corder, during the heated Education Reform debate last April attended an Idaho Education Association meeting and said he opposed the education reforms. Furthermore he said he would not win a closed primary. Turns out he was right.
Brackett capitalized on Corder’s mistake and made it a key feature of the race. Corder, unable to rely solely on the goodwill he had built up with constituents of his old district was thus swept away.
A number of Senate seats were open this year due to retirements. Conservative Republican Reps. Steven Thayn, Emmett and Marv Hagadorn, Meridian won their races. Though both admitted they stuck with the issues votes cared about in the primary they do not expect bad feelings from the primary to be checked at the door. It continues to look increasingly like relations between the House and Senate will be icy at best. What could make the situation even worse is the Senate is set to see an influx of new conservative Senators. If they try to push the Senate to the right with Denney’s and Moyle’s blessing the moderate establishment of the Senate could push back.
If Thayn and Hagadorn thought the party infighting was an issue Senator Shawn Keough, Silverton, was appalled by it. Keough’s primary campaign was particularly nasty with attacks on her not just being ideological or legislative but also personal.
Keough summed it up best with her statement to the Idaho Reporter regarding where she sees the party going in Idaho, “There’s definitely a divide in the party and it’s expressed itself in Bonner and Boundary counties and also in Kootenai. I think some folks have become active in our party about four years ago and have really taken it in a different direction that lines up differently than has our traditional Republican Party. It’s very strict ideology.”
In North Idaho where Keough resides this divide within the party has been felt and seen by Rep. Phil Hart R-CDA, being brought up on ethics violations for his refusal to pay federal income taxes. Hart was narrowly defeated in the primary Tuesday night. Former Senator Mike Jorgenson tried to regain his seat from freshman Senator Steve Vick. Vick won easily. And it was even seen in the Presidential Caucus on March 6th where Ron Paul received his strongest support from North Idaho.
Perhaps the best bit of news for Idaho Republican moderates was seeing Senator Monty Pierce survive a spirited challenge from an upstart conservative challenger. Pierce, a long-time make no apologies about it moderate looked vulnerable; especially when one included redistricting.
The Idaho GOP saw mixed results on Tuesday night. So did the ranks of Idaho’s shrinking moderate Republican ranks. As for Democrats, well considering their turnout was utterly atrocious, and they had an open primary, they really need to start asking themselves whether they will forever be a minority party in the state?