Analysis: Must-watch GOP primaries loom. Expect some chaos.

The 2024 legislative session continues to lurch along like a listless and unfocused Season One.

So let’s turn our attention to the 2024 primary election, only 61 days away.

There’s a lot to preview and process. Republicans have contested primaries in 57 of Idaho’s 105 legislative seats. (Let’s set aside, for now anyway, the Democratic Party’s remarkable strides in candidate recruitment. Democrats fielded candidates in 81 races, up from a meager 45 races two years ago, and have four contested primaries of their own.)

First things first: the primary.

Click here to find out what legislative district you live in and May election details. Click here for all of our past election news, including fundraising details.

Expect another statewide battle between the GOP’s hardline and mainstream factions. Don’t necessarily expect a knockout; in 2022, hardliners gained ground in North Idaho, while mainstreamers picked up seats in East Idaho. Expect some chaos — but perhaps not on the scale we saw two years ago, when a staggering 20 incumbents lost in one night.

Let’s break those 57 GOP primaries into a more manageable list. A dozen races you need to watch, and another dozen races you probably should watch.

The must-watch primaries 

Senate, District 1: Sen. Scott Herndon (incumbent); Jim Woodward. Let’s top the list at the top of the map, with a grudge match in Idaho’s northernmost district. Herndon, of Sagle, gave hardliners a huge win in 2022, ousting the moderate Woodward and taking his places on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Senate Education Committee. This could turn out to be the spendiest race on May’s ballot. Herndon has raised nearly $79,000 already; Woodward has raised nearly $86,000, loaning his campaign an additional $20,000.

Senate, District 6: Sen. Dan Foreman (incumbent); Robert Blair.  Another rematch. Blair, a Kendrick Republican, was a substitute senator in 2022. Foreman, a hardline conservative from Viola, ousted Blair in the primary. That was Foreman’s first step on a return to the Legislature, where he served in 2017 and 2018.

House Seat A, District 6: Rep. Lori McCann (incumbent); Colton Bennett; David Dalby. McCann, vice chair of the House Education Committee, has opposed bills targeting access to “harmful” library materials. Last session, she led an unsuccessful push on a bill to install feminine hygiene products dispensers in girls’ restrooms in schools. She also is a supporter of Idaho Launch, and sits on the state Workforce Development Council that is implementing the controversial student incentive program. It is no surprise she has drawn primary opposition to the right.

Senate, District 8: Sen. Geoff Schroeder (incumbent); Christy Zito. A headlong ideological collision in a sprawling district that encompasses Boise, Custer, Elmore and Valley counties. Schroeder, of Mountain Home, tried unsuccessfully to move a compromise library bill through the Senate. Zito, of Hammett, is a former lawmaker with bona fides in the GOP’s hardline wing.

Senate, District 10: Sen. Tammy Nichols (incumbent); Lori Bishop. Nichols, of Middleton, is another hardliner on Senate Education. She pushed an ambitious education savings account bill through committee last year, but it failed on the Senate floor. Bishop, also of Middleton, has raised more than $56,000 for the primary, including a $25,000 loan to her campaign.

House Seat A, District 11: Rep. Julie Yamamoto (incumbent); Nicole Hyland; Kent Marmon. Yamamoto, of Caldwell, chairs the House Education Committee — which, unlike its Senate counterpart, has opposed private education funding proposals that fall under the heading of school choice. Will two conservative challengers — including Hyland, who ran unsuccessfully for Caldwell School Board in 2023 — split the hardline vote, playing to Yamamoto’s advantage?

Senate, District 13: Sen. Brian Lenney (incumbent); Jeff Agenbroad. Another rematch. Lenney, of Nampa, ousted Agenbroad in 2022 and has aligned with the hardliners in the Senate and on Senate Education. Agenbroad’s bid to return to the Senate has been largely bankrolled by industry and mainstream GOP donors, including Yamamoto.

Senate, District 20: Sen. Chuck Winder (incumbent); Joshua Keyser. This race makes the Top 12 largely because of Winder, of Boise. As Senate president pro tem, he is the highest-ranking member of GOP leadership. Before the 2024 session, he publicly rebuked several conservatives within his own caucus, which could draw the ire of hardline primary voters with long memories.

House Seat B, District 31: Rep. Rod Furniss (incumbent); Karey Hanks. Furniss, of Rigby, has assumed a public role in a host of education debates: lowering the school bond two-thirds supermajority threshold; improving health benefits for K-12 staff; installing feminine hygiene dispensers in restroom. Hanks, of St. Anthony, is a hardliner seeking to return to the House. This race also is worth watching because East Idaho legislative seats have tended to flip in past cycles. Incumbency is no guarantee of success.

House Seat A, District 32: Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen (incumbent); Sean Calvert Crystal; Kelly Golden. There’s no more stark illustration of the inner strife within the GOP. The district’s GOP central committee has issued a resolution that “prohibits” Mickelsen from identifying herself as a Republican, East Idaho News has reported. Mickelsen says she isn’t going anywhere. In May, she won’t be running alone.

House Seat B, District 32: Rep. Wendy Horman (incumbent); Sean Coletti; Bryan Smith. No legislator has more control over where education dollars go than Horman, of Idaho Falls. For years, the JFAC co-chair has played a central role in writing K-12 budget bills. She is also one of the Legislature’s more ardent school choice advocates. But Horman will face two well-known opponents. Coletti serves as mayor of Ammon. Smith is a GOP national committee member and vice chair of the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s board of directors; he has twice challenged U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, losing both times.

House Seat B, District 35: Rep. Joshua Wheeler (incumbent); Brett Skidmore. In 2022, Wheeler raised nearly $91,000 in the runup to his primary win over then-Rep. Chad Christensen. Wheeler is now in another big-dollar primary. He has raised close to $34,000, but Skidmore has more than $69,000 in campaign loans and donations, largely from hardline backers, such as former Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

Other primaries you should watch

House Seat A, District 8: Rep. Matthew Bundy (incumbent); Rob Beiswenger. Bundy, a Mountain Home teacher, sits on JFAC.

House Seat B, District 8: Rep. Megan Blanksma (incumbent); Faye Thompson. Blanksma, of Hammett, is a leading supporter of Launch. She was deposed as House majority leader in February.

Senate, District 9: Brandon Shippy; Scott Syme. A spendy primary to succeed retiring Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland. Syme served in the House from 2017 to 2022.

House Seat A, District 9: Rep. Jacyn Gallagher (incumbent); John Shirts. Gallagher, of Weiser, flipped a House seat to the hardline side in 2022.

House Seat B, District 13: Rep. Kenny Wroten (incumbent); Amy Henry; Steven Tanner. Wroten, of Nampa, cast one of the swing votes in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee this session, helping to block a $50 million private school tax credit bill.

Senate, District 21: Sen. Treg Bernt (incumbent); Brenda Bourn. Bernt, of Meridian, led a push this session on a bill banning campus diversity statements.

House Seat A, District 23: Rep. Melissa Durrant (incumbent); Chris Bruce. Durrant, of Kuna, was another Rev and Tax swing vote against the private school tax credit bill.

House Seat B, District 23: Rep. Tina Lambert (incumbent); Shawn Dygert. Lambert, of Caldwell, aligns with the hardline wing on JFAC.

Senate, District 24: Sen. Glenneda Zuiderveld (incumbent); Alex Caval. Zuiderveld, of Twin Falls, was another hardline pickup in the 2022 primary.

House Seat B, District 28: Rep. Richard Cheatum (incumbent); James Floyd Lamborn; Mike Saville. Cheatum, of Pocatello, voted against the private school tax credit bill in Rev and Tax.

House Seat B, District 30: Rep. Julianne Young (incumbent); Ben Fuhriman. Young, of Blackfoot, is a prolific bill-writer, focused largely on conservative social issues.

Senate, District 33: Sen. Dave Lent (incumbent); Bryan Scholz. Lent, of Idaho Falls, chairs Senate Education, and often finds himself at odds with the hardliners on his committee.

Twenty-four primaries. That’s a decent starter list of races to watch — when the Legislature finally wraps up.

Kevin Richert writes a weekly analysis on education policy and education politics. Look for his stories each Thursday.


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]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday