Five legislative races to watch

Even though all 105 seats in the Idaho Legislature are up for election on Nov. 6, only a handful look interesting.

Most races won’t be competitive — usually because one political party has a firm hold on the district or a popular incumbent faces only token opposition.

In fact, voters in several entire legislative districts won’t even have a contested race to vote on between their two House seats or their Senate seat.

In Bingham County’s District 31, none of the three Republicans face an opponent.

Same for Magic Valley area districts 25 and 27, where not a Democrat could be found to challenge any of the two districts’ six Republicans.

Ditto for North Idaho’s District 7, where voters can stay home and still feel comfortable knowing their three Republican incumbents will be heading back to the Statehouse come January.

That said, there are still a handful of races that could be close, especially for voters who live in west Boise or up in Latah County:

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District 15, House Seat A

Who can vote: Ada County voters who live in western Boise. The district is generally located between Maple Grove Road and Cloverdale Street, north of Interstate 84 and south of Chinden Boulevard.

Who is running: Republican incumbent Lynn Luker and Democrat Steve Berch.

Why it matters: This is the third time Berch is challenging Luker. Luker won the previous two races in 2014 and 2016. But the 2016 race was one of the closest legislative races in the state. Of more than 19,000 votes cast, Luker won by 293. This race marks one of the few chances for Democrats to gain a seat in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

District 15 House Seat B

Who can vote: Ada County voters who live in western Boise. The district is generally located between Maple Grove Road and Cloverdale Street, north of Interstate 84 and south of Chinden Boulevard.

Who is running: Republican incumbent Patrick McDonald and Democrat Jake Ellis.

Why it matters: McDonald serves as vice chairman of the House Education Committee. With chairwoman Julie VanOrdern’s primary loss back in May, McDonald may be a front runner to head up the important committee. But first, he has to win a rematch with Ellis, a retired battalion chief with the Boise Fire Department. McDonald won two years ago by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, but Democrats have long hoped to become competitive in this Republican-controlled district.

District 5 Senate

Who can vote: Residents of Latah and Benewah counties

Who is running: Republican incumbent Dan Foreman and Democrat David Nelson

Why it matters: Foreman was one of just two senators to vote against the higher education budget. He lives in and represents Moscow, home to the University of Idaho. Foreman may create an opening for Democrats to take back control of this seat. He disparaged his home county of Latah as “a cesspool of liberalism.” He’s been caught on tape yelling at people multiple times, and he told the Lewiston Tribune that University of Idaho pushes “a left-wing, exceedingly liberal agenda.” Nelson is a Moscow businessman who has previously helped former Rep. Paulette Jordan and Sen. Dan Schmidt (both Democrats) win in that district.

District 5 House Seat A

Who can vote: Residents of Latah and Benewah counties

Who is running: Democratic incumbent Margaret Gannon and Republican Bill Goesling

Why it matters: Gannon was appointed in the middle of the 2018 legislative session to fill the seat Jordan vacated, and she landed on the House Education Committee. Goesling also has plenty of education experience as a former member of the State Board of Education. Gannon wasn’t on the ballot two years ago and Goesling lost a fairy close GOP primary in 2016, so this race could be wide open.

District 26 House Seat A

Who can vote: Residents of Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties

Who is running: Republican incumbent Steven Miller and Democrat Muffy Davis.

Why it matters: Miller sits on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, so he enjoys considerable influence when it comes to setting the public schools and higher education budgets. But Miller is the lone Republican in the district — Democrats hold the other House seat and the D26’s Senate seat. Miller squeezed out razor thin victories in each of the past two general elections. He won his seat in 2016 by 264 votes. In 2014, he won by just 126 votes. Davis, meanwhile, is a popular Paralympic athlete who announced her candidacy at a women’s march in Ketchum and is campaigning on education issues and Medicaid expansion.

All of these races will be on the Nov. 6 ballots. The 2019 Legislative session kicks off Jan. 7. Visit www.idahovotes.gov to double check your legislative district and polling place.

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