Democratic Reps. Chew and Nash have substitutes serving for them in Idaho House

Two long-term substitutes are serving in place of two Democratic legislators in the Idaho House of Representatives during the 2024 legislative session in Boise.

Marjorie Wilson, a licensed social worker, is serving for Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise.

Don Coberly, the retired superintendent of the Boise School District, is serving for Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise.

While Chew and Nash are away, Wilson and Coberly are able to attend committee hearings and debate and vote on bills for them.

All seats in the Idaho Legislature expire this year and are up for election, including the seats Chew and Nash hold.

Don Coberly

Chew previously announced plans to retire from Idaho House

Wilson has served as substitute for Chew all session as Chew undergoes chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. Being immunocompromised, Chew did not feel comfortable working in-person at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, Chew told the Idaho Capital Sun through the Idaho House Democrats.

Chew previously announced she plans to retire from the Idaho Legislature at the end of her current term, which expires at the end of this year. Chew is the longest serving Democrat in the Idaho House and tied for the second-longest serving legislator overall. A licensed pharmacist, Chew is serving her ninth term in the Idaho Legislature.

Wilson said she has known Chew for a long time because Wilson’s mother, Janet Wilson, has been involved with the Democratic Party for many years.

Marjorie Wilson works in the field of substance abuse, earned a master’s degree in public health and has worked with Chew on legislation. Wilson said she offered to sub for Chew because Wilson was concerned about a number of bills affecting public health.

Since filling in this year, Wilson said she is especially concerned about House Bill 406, which would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for people convicted of fentanyl trafficking. The Idaho House voted 55-13 on Monday to pass the bill, with Wilson and Coberly voting against it.

Rep. Marjorie Wilson, D-Boise, serves as a substitute for Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, at the State Capitol building on Jan. 23, 2024. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

“We’ve seen mandatory minimums are not effective at curbing substance abuse and just incarcerate people instead of offering treatment,” Wilson said in a telephone interview. “We are not really approaching substance use from the right perspective. We’re approaching it from a fear-based perspective rather than an evidence-based intervention perspective.”

Wilson told the Sun she is planning to run for Chew’s seat in this year’s election and would like to focus on public health policy if elected.

Nash to focus on his role on the Boise City Council

Nash is an attorney who is in his second term in the Idaho House and was also elected to the Boise City Council in November. Nash had previously told the Sun that he would likely focus on his role on the Boise City Council if he was elected in November. Nash was previously appointed to fill a vacancy on the Boise City Council and then went on to win election on his own in November.

Nash told the Sun last week that he expects to resign near the end of the legislative session and asked Coberly to fill in for him in the meantime because of Coberly’s experience on education issues Coberly gained leading the Boise School District.
On Jan. 15, Nash designated Coberly to serve as his substitute until March 15. Coberly has previously served as a substitute legislator for Nash and former Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City.

Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, was sworn in to serve on the Boise City Council on April 6, 2023. (Courtesy of the city of Boise)

In an interview at the Idaho State Capitol, Coberly said his experience with public education policy and participation in Boise School Board meetings helped prepare him to serve as a long-term sub. Still, Coberly said the job is harder than he expected and it is demanding to prepare to make a knowledgeable, informed vote on every bill that goes before legislators.

“I’ve spent a lot of time listening, and the biggest impression on me is how hard these jobs are,” Coberly said. The legislators that are here are devoting a ton of time to try to make fair decisions and represent their constituents, and you don’t really see that until you’re sitting in committee or sitting on the floor and see how agonizing some of those decisions are for legislators.”

Coberly said during his time as a substitute legislator he is focusing on written testimony from residents of District 16 in Ada County that Nash represents.

“That’s important to me to pay attention to what his constituents are saying,” Coberly said.

Coberly told the Sun he is not interested in running for Nash’s seat in this year’s election.

What does a substitute Idaho legislator do?

Substitute legislators in Idaho – like Wilson and Coberly – are administered the oath of office and sworn in. They serve on committees and get to vote on bills, budgets and rules just like any elected legislator.

Under Idaho law, “In the event that a legislator is temporarily unable to perform the duties of his office, the legislator may designate a qualified person to succeed to the power and duties, but not the office, of the legislator until the incumbent legislator is able to resume performance of his duties or a vacancy occurs in the office.”

If a legislator leaves office or dies during their term, a legislative district committee from the legislator’s same district and political party has 15 days under state law to submit a list of three nominees for the position to the governor, who then has 15 days to appoint one of the nominees to fill the vacancy in the Idaho Legislature.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: [email protected]. Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Clark Corbin, Idaho Capital Sun

Clark Corbin, Idaho Capital Sun

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News.

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