GOP gain in Idaho House could trigger policy changes
The Idaho Legislature will likely see a more conservative tilt the next two years, as Republicans could pick up five seats in the Idaho House of Representative. The GOP and Democrats appear to have swapped a seat in the Idaho Senate, though some changes during the primary election could see that chamber lean more to the right, as well.
“It's going to be a good, conservative Legislature,” said Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, who won her election on Tuesday. Smyser was appointed to her seat in 2009. She said lawmakers' top priority will be creating jobs and a more stable economic climate. She also said she's working on issues of government transparency. “It's important that the people know how their money is being spent.”
The gains in the House would give Republicans 57 seats and Democrats 13 seats, based on unofficial voting results. In the Senate, there would be 28 Republicans and 7 Democrats.
The shift could allow Republicans to make lasting reforms or changes in the structure of state government. “We have a very unique opportunity in this next session, and only this next session,” said Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. “Things like looking at tax code, our education process, our process for doing entitlements like Health and Welfare—the biggest things that we can tackle besides balancing the budget.” Hagedorn said the will to make changes could disappear after next year due to redistricting and another statewide election
Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who oversees the Senate and previously served in the Senate, said lawmakers will need to weigh tough decisions. “We've got to make some fundamental changes in Health and Welfare,” he said.
The state budget could be a major issue, as well. State budget analysts say the budget is structurally out of balance by $140 to $350 million, and that the next budget is going to be tough.
Democrats say they will continue to work on their policy objectives. "Ninety percent of legislation in the Statehouse is not partisan," said Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise. "A person's expertise matters more than their party." She said she will be focusing on the budget, making sure education and state mental health services are properly funded.
"I still think we're making inroads," said Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise.
Only two Democratic incumbents lost in the election, Reps. Mary Lou Shepherd of Wallace, and Liz Chavez of Lewiston. The other GOP pickups were in races where sitting Democrats chose not to run.
Three Republican Senate candidates who defeated GOP incumbents in the May primary won on the general election. The only newly-held Democratic seat is in Latah County, where Dan Schmidt, a doctor and former county coroner, defeated Gresham Bouma.
A few races could potentially shift from the current results. Vote totals in two races in Boise's 18th District, both potential Republican pickups, are within 1 percent. A House race between Republican Julie Ellsworth and Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking is separated by nine votes and will likely trigger a full recount.
In a Senate race, Republican Mitch Toryanski currently leads Democrat Branden Durst, a current House member, by 103 votes. Durst said he's waiting to see more voting reports before deciding whether to concede or pursue a recount.
Durst said he's seen indications of voting irregularities. “We're trying to be gracious in defeat, if that's where we're at,” he told IdahoReporter.com. “We're trying to make sure everything is copacetic.”