With eyes on redistricting, candidates are filling a legislative battleground

TREASURE VALLEY — Idaho’s new state legislative borders haven’t yet been finalized, but the redrawn version of a perennial battleground district is already filling up with candidates planning to run.

The new-look District 15, as drawn by the state’s independent redistricting commission this year, will continue to bridge Democratic Boise and Republican Meridian. One of Idaho’s purplest districts, it’s produced some of the closest races and most apparent split-ticket voting of any Statehouse district over the last decade of general elections. With proposed borders that envelope all of the current District 15, plus a handful of neighborhoods around The Village at Meridian, there’s little reason to think that contentiousness will dissolve in 2022.

The overlap could make for another nail biter next year, if the past is any indication. Sitting Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, for example, won reelection by only six votes in 2018.

The map must survive ongoing legal challenges and gain approval from the Idaho State Supreme Court, but if it does, voters can already count on five — mostly familiar — candidates to vie for control of the three seats in the proposed District 15.

The current district is represented by two Republicans in Martin and freshman Rep. Codi Galloway of Boise, and one Democrat in Boise Rep. Steve Berch.

The 2022 primary election is scheduled for May, and the general election is set for November.

A (potentially) contested primary

Martin said it’s “premature” to announce a run before redistricting is complete, but however things shake out, he plans to run for his 10th Senate term.

“I love the Senate,” he told EdNews by phone Friday.

But he and Galloway could be on a collision course. Galloway announced she’d run for the Senate last week on her campaign page.

“Last session, it took me a very short time to realize that there’s a big problem in the Idaho government. And the problem is not in the House,” Galloway said. “We passed bills that would have curtailed federal government overreach, protected Idahoans from vaccine mandates, and put students and parents first when it comes to education. The problem is, you’ve probably never heard of these bills, because after we passed them in the House, they went over to the Senate where they were quietly killed by some senators who are not as conservative as we thought.”

Martin, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and a political moderate, responded on Facebook days later, but didn’t call Galloway out by name.

“I will be announcing, at the appropriate time, about running for re-election to the Idaho State Senate. When I do, I will NOT be running against anyone or anything,” he wrote, in part. “WHY would you run against the organization that you want to join?”

He said he’ll mostly campaign on changes to health care laws, including “clarifying” Idahoans’ health care freedoms, and work with suicide prevention. On schools, he said he opposes “overreach” at all levels, including federal vaccine mandates and state bans on school mask mandates, which some House Republicans, including Galloway, unsuccessfully endorsed this year.

The race between two former teachers that may ensue would pit Martin against a representative who has appeared to be politically to the right of him.

In her first session, Galloway, niece of fellow House Republican Joe Palmer of Meridian, was active on education. She voted up a teacher salary bill when half the House rejected it over alleged leftist indoctrination concerns. One of her biggest legislative pushes came when she sponsored a failed bill to give money to parents who withdrew children from school districts that did not offer full-time face-to-face learning.

Galloway leaving the House will leave both District 15 representative seats open in the Republican primary, and Martin isn’t aware of anyone who has announced they’ll run for those spots.

A full Democratic ticket

Assuming the new district map gets the nod, Democrats already have a full lineup of candidates locked in for the election.

Berch confirmed in a Friday phone call that he’ll run for reelection and has been knocking on doors since the summer. Political newcomer Jeff Nafsinger, a Boise realtor, announced Saturday that he’ll run for the other House seat, which Galloway is vacating. And Rick Just, who lost to Martin by 6% of the vote in 2020, plans to make another run at the Senate, he said.

All three said education, infrastructure and public lands will top their platforms in phone calls with EdNews.

“An increase in education funding is certainly the number one issue for folks and a close second is some kind of real property tax relief,” said Just, now retired from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

Like Martin, the Democrats said they’d push for increases to teacher salaries if elected or reelected.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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