Analysis: The races that will shape the 2023 Legislature

We know this already. The 2023 Legislature won’t look too much like the 2022 model.

There will be at least a dozen new senators and at least 24 new House members.

And that’s even before the elections, when all 35 Senate seats and all 70 House seats appear on the ballot.

We’ve already seen some big-name retirements, including Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee co-chair Rep. Rick Youngblood, House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Wood and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett. We’re also seeing the effects of redistricting: five head-to-head GOP primaries between incumbent lawmakers. We’re also seeing plenty of reshuffling, as four legislators seek statewide office and nine House members run for the Senate.

Yes, it’s dizzying.

So let’s slow things down.

Here are 12 races to watch in May and November. Races that could shape the politics and the tone of the next legislature.

Senate, District 1. Incumbent Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, is a mainstream Republican with considerable clout on education; he sits on the Senate Education Committee and JFAC. Bonner County Republican Central Committee Chairman Scott Herndon is challenging Woodward from the right. This race could get spendy: As of February, Herndon’s campaign had nearly $63,000 in the bank, and Woodward had more than $45,000.

House Seat B, District 4. Rep. Paul Amador was one of the first House members to announce a run for Senate — soon after Sen. Mary Souza announced her run for secretary of state. But Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, decided to stay put. If he’s re-elected, he could easily step into a leadership slot in JFAC, with Youngblood and Vice Chair Caroline Nilsson Troy both retiring. Amador faces Roger Garlock and Elaine Price in the primary; the nominee will face Democrat Larry Bieber.

Senate, District 6. Redistricting has mashed together a race to watch from start to finish. Sen. Robert Blair, a Kendrick Republican appointed for this session, will face former Sen. Dan Foreman of Viola and Jen Seegmiller of Moscow in the GOP primary. Foreman was a conservative hardliner when he served in the Legislature in 2017 and 2018. The nominee faces Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, a two-term senator who’s already sitting on more than $39,000 of campaign cash. Constitution Party candidate James Hartley rounds out the field.

Senate, District 7. Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, is a JFAC vice chair who sits on Senate Education. He’s had a hand in a host of education issues this year, including the budgets, all-day kindergarten and services for children with dyslexia. He’s running in a four-person GOP primary against Cindy Carlson of Riggins, and Heather Rogers and Keith Stuffle, both of Lewiston. Carlson is an ally of Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a conservative Republican running for lieutenant governor.

Senate, District 9. Another redistricting special. GOP assistant majority leader Abby Lee of Fruitland and Local Government and Taxation Committee Chairman Jim Rice of Caldwell have been thrown together in this remapped district. Parental rights advocate Kayla Dunn and Payette Republican Jordan Marques are also in the primary.

House Seat B, District 9. Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a House Education Committee member, faces Rep. Scott Syme, R-Wilder, a JFAC member.

Senate, District 10. One of several races where a House conservative is looking to move to the Senate. Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, faces Scott Brock of Middleton in the primary. The GOP nominee will face Caldwell Democrat Bob Solomon in November.

Senate, District 14. Huge education implications here, as Senate Education Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, squares off against Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, a JFAC member. Also an interesting case study in the effects of redistricting. For the past decade, Thayn has represented a district that took in Gem, Boise, Valley, Lemhi and Custer counties; his thoroughly reshaped district now includes Gem County and a piece of Ada County. Also in the race: Emmett Republican Katie Donahue and Constitution Party candidate Kirsten Faith Richardson of Emmett.

Senate, District 15. A GOP showdown in West Boise’s purple district. Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Martin faces first-term Rep. Codi Galloway. Martin goes into the race with more than $103,000 in his war chest; Galloway has about $21,000. Also running: Republican Dorothy Greenzang, Constitution Party candidate Sarah Clendenon and Rick Just, a Democrat who lost to Martin in 2020.

Senate, District 20. Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, is one of the most powerful members of the Legislature. But in May, he faces three primary opponents: Rosa Martinez and Mark Johnson of Meridian, and Ryan Spoon of Boise. Spoon is a familiar name. He served on Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s task force on indoctrination in education.

Senate, District 26. Rep. Laurie Lickley, a moderate Republican from Jerome, faces Eric Parker of Hailey in the May primary. Parker is founder of The Real 3% of Idaho, a militia group. This race won’t be settled in May, though. The GOP nominee will face Hailey Democrat Ron Taylor. Stennett is serving as Taylor’s campaign treasurer, and District 26 still takes in the blue enclave of Blaine County. Sun Valley independent candidate Donald Lappin is also running.

House Seat B, District 34. We might have saved the best for last. Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, is one of the House’s most staunch conservatives. In JFAC, he has led the press for higher education budget cuts. He’ll face former Rep. Britt Raybould, a Rexburg Republican who assumed a much more moderate role in her two years on JFAC. Nate narrowly unseated Raybould in 2020. The rematch will be a must-watch.

Here’s the next wave: seven significant races that didn’t quite crack the Top 12.

Senate, District 4. Tara Malek, Republican, Coeur d’Alene; Ben Toews, Republican, Coeur d’Alene.

Senate, District 11. Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell; Chris Trakel, Republican, Caldwell; Toni Ferro, Democrat, Caldwell; Kurtis Burger, Constitution, Caldwell.

House Seat B, District 14. Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle; Josh Tanner, Republican, Eagle; Shelley Brock, Democrat Eagle.

House Seat A, District 22. Rep. Greg Ferch, R-Boise; Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Meridian;  Natalie Maclachlan, Democrat, Boise.

House Seat A, District 31: Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony; Jerald Raymond, a Menan Republican and former legislator; Connie Delaney, Democrat, Salmon.

House Seat A, District 33: Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls; Jeff Thompson, an Idaho Falls Republican and another former legislator; Miranda Marquit, Democrat, Idaho Falls.

House Seat B, District 35: Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon; Josh Wheeler, Republican,  Ammon; Hyrum Johnson, independent, Driggs.

Not quite a Top 20. But pretty close. And enough races to put an indelible mark on the Legislature, in 2023 and beyond.


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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