The $100,000 club: Idaho’s costliest legislative primaries

In an expensive GOP primary, a dozen legislative races crossed the $100,000 threshold.

The big spending took place in races across Idaho, from the Canadian border to the Wyoming state line.

The election outcomes followed no clear pattern. Hardline conservatives prevailed in a half-dozen races; in the other races, moderates and conservatives defeated challengers from the right.

And in all 12 races the candidates’ spending tells only part of the story. Their sunshine reports do not include spending from third parties — groups that campaigned independently, and heavily, for or against candidates. Third-party groups poured an estimated $2 million into the legislative primaries.

Here are thumbnails on the costliest primaries: What the candidates spent, and who won (winners in red).

Senate, District 1: Jim Woodward ($156,410); Sen. Scott Herndon ($116,118)

Bottom line: $272,528.

This Panhandle showdown was pretty much destined to be the spendiest primary in Idaho. Facing off for the third time — two years after a superheated 2022 race — Woodward and Herndon spent months tapping their donor networks.

Woodward avenged his 2022 loss, in a pickup for the Senate’s mainstream faction.

Woodward, of Sagle, raised money largely from industry and centrist donors, such as Idaho Power and Spokane, Wash.-based Clearwater Paper, and State Board of Education member Shawn Keough, who had served 22 years in the state Senate representing the Panhandle. Woodward was also among 11 candidates who received donations from University of Idaho President C. Scott Green.

House Seat B, District 32: Rep. Wendy Horman ($100,661); Sean Coletti ($13,436); Bryan Smith ($90,335)

Bottom line: $204,432.

Education played prominently in this spendy Bonneville County race.

Horman, the co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, received maximum donations from the Idaho Charter School Network and K12 Management Inc., a prominent online education vendor. Horman, of Idaho Falls, also received maximum donations from Melaleuca CEO and Idaho Falls GOP kingpin Frank VanderSloot and his wife, Belinda.

Melalauca also bankrolled third-party messaging supporting Horman — and that wasn’t the only independent spending in this race. Supporters and opponents of private school choice both weighed in heavily, honing in on Horman’s sponsorship of a bill to create a tax credit program for private school tuition.

Coletti — the mayor of Ammon — received donations from Reps. Todd Achilles, D-Boise, and Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, who lost in her primary.

Smith, a GOP national committeeman and Idaho Freedom Foundation board member, largely self-funded his campaign through loans.

House Seat A, District 10: Rep. Mike Moyle ($153,633); Rachel Hazelip ($21,197)

Bottom line: $174,830.

Faced with a pair of third-party groups seeking his ouster, the House speaker ramped up his spending in the waning weeks of the campaign. He spent $99,803 in May alone.

Moyle’s donor base cut across a wide swath of the GOP landscape, including industry PACs and several more conservative backers. He also received donations from the Idaho Charter School Network and K12 Management Inc. He also secured money from more than a half-dozen sitting legislators — including Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, whose support has exposed a rift within conservative circles.

Senate, District 9: Brandon Shippy ($85,106); Scott Syme $75,337)

Bottom line: $160,443.

A potential pickup for Senate hardliners. Shippy, of New Plymouth, defeated Syme, a former legislator who had the backing of outgoing Sen. Abby Lee, a moderate Republican who is leaving to take a job managing Oregon’s community college system.

Shippy received large donations from several established conservative donors, such as Smith’s Idaho Falls law firm; SMC Properties, an Eagle-based precious metals company; and Larry and Marianne Williams of Boise.

Senate, District 13: Sen. Brian Lenney ($57,472); Jeff Agenbroad ($101,591)

Bottom line: $159,063.

In another rematch from 2022, Lenney won after receiving considerable financial support from hardline circles. He received maximum $1,000 donations from three Freedom Foundation board members: chairman Brent Regan, Doyle Beck and Smith.

Lenney sits on the Senate Education Committee. He is a staunch supporter of education savings accounts and other vehicles that would move public money into private school support.

House Seat B, District 35: Rep. Joshua Wheeler ($69,228); Brett Skidmore ($85,248)

Bottom line: $154,476.

Wheeler, of Ammon, withstood a spendy primary in his bid for a second House term. His donors included Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, a moderate who supported a long list of mainstream candidates in the primary; Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke; and Caroline Nilsson Troy, a former legislator who is now the U of I’s governmental affairs liaison. 

Senate, District 24: Sen. Glenneda Zuiderveld ($52,731); Alex Caval ($74,059)

Bottom line: $126,790.

Zuiderveld, of Twin Falls, secured the GOP nomination in another high-profile matchup between the hardline and the mainstream.

Zuiderveld received donations from a roster of hardline backers. Caval received support from more than a half dozen former Magic Valley legislators, including former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb. 

House Seat A, District 24: Clint Hostetler ($29,135); Rep. Chenele Dixon ($97,007)

Bottom line: $126,142.

In one of the election’s biggest storylines, hardline conservatives flipped three seats in the Magic Valley.

Hostetler overcame one of the primary’s biggest spenders, Dixon, who was seeking a second House term. 

House Seat A, District 6: Rep. Lori McCann ($63,949); Colton Bennett ($20,810); David Dalby ($31,401)

Bottom line: $116,160.

McCann, of Lewiston, narrowly won the GOP nomination over a pair of conservative challengers. Her donor list included K12 Management Inc., Keough and Green.

McCann’s nomination could have considerable education implications. She is currently vice chair of the House Education Committee, and that might put her in line to succeed committee Chairwoman Julie Yamamoto of Caldwell, who lost in the primary.

Senate, District 10: Sen. Tammy Nichols ($37,775); Lori Bishop ($75,281)

Bottom line: $113,056.

Nichols, of Middleton, easily captured the GOP nomination over Bishop, who buttressed her war chest with a $25,000 loan to her campaign.

Nichols — a member of the Senate Education Committee — gleaned much of her financial support from hardline supporters. She received maximum $1,000 donations from Regan and Beck. She also received support from Scott, who co-chairs the hardline Idaho Freedom Caucus with Nichols.

Senate, District 20: Joshua Keyser ($23,221); Sen. Chuck Winder ($89,219)

Bottom line: $112,440.

Keyser, of Meridian, secured the biggest upset in the primary. He unseated the president pro tem, the highest-ranking member of the Senate, overcoming a stark spending disadvantage in the process. His donors included SMC Properties and its owner, Stefan Gleason of Charlotte, N.C.

Like Moyle, Winder was the target of expensive third-party messaging. His campaign was funded largely with industry PAC donations; he also received $1,000 from Green.

House Seat A, District 9: John Shirts ($87,985); Rep. Jacyn Gallagher ($17,198)

Bottom line: $105,183.

Shirts, of Weiser, greatly outspent Gallagher, who had aligned with the House’s hardline wing during her two years in the Legislature.

Like Syme, Shirts received a maximum $1,000 donation from Lee. Shirts’ donor list also included Yamamoto, former GOP gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist, and the Idaho Land Fund of Boise.

Disclosure: J.B. Scott — the founding chairman of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, which funds Idaho Education News — is affiliated with the Idaho Land Fund.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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