Idaho voters face an array of choices in Tuesday’s primary election that could help shape the direction of the state for years. Here are 10 key races on Tuesday’s ballot, but there are many more, from statewide posts to legislative contests to local county positions. Check out our full election coverage at idahopress.com/news/elections, including profiles of races, news stories and our Voters Guide.
There are contested races in three parties for governor, with seven Republicans including current Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin challenging current GOP Gov. Brad Little as he seeks re-election, and Democrats Stephen Heidt, who is on the ballot, facing write-in candidate Shelby Rognstad, the Sandpoint mayor who’s been campaigning statewide for months and has far outraised Heidt. Idaho’s Libertarian Party also has two candidates facing off in the primary for governor: John Dionne Jr. and Paul Sand. The winners of each primary will compete on the November ballot, along with independent candidate Ammon Bundy and Constitution Party hopeful Chantyrose Davison.
The biggest fireworks, by far, have come in the Republican primary, as Idaho sees a sitting governor challenged by his lieutenant governor of the same party for the first time since 1938. McGeachin, who has clashed repeatedly with Little over his response to the coronavirus pandemic and twice unsuccessfully tried to overturn his policies when he briefly left the state, has run a flashy but chaotic campaign. Little has largely focused on his record of economic success, including school funding increases and tax cuts. Other active GOP challengers include Eagle businessman Ed Humphreys, who’s been campaigning full-time for a year, and Bonner County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw.
Little, 68, an Emmett native, is a third-generation rancher from a prominent Idaho ranching family who holds a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness from the University of Idaho. He served four terms in the state Senate, rising to majority caucus chairman, and was appointed lieutenant governor in 2009, then twice re-elected before winning the governorship in 2018. McGeachin, 59, served in the Idaho Legislature for 10 years, including chairing the House Health and Welfare Committee and serving on the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, before running for lieutenant governor in 2018, where she’s now served four years. She and her husband own an Irish pub in Idaho Falls and several automotive businesses.
The crowded primary race comes after Little himself was first nominated for governor in a seven-way primary in 2018, taking 37.3% of the vote. He went on to defeat Democrat Paulette Jordan in the general election with nearly 60% of the vote. McGeachin gained her current office after being nominated in a five-way primary in which she tallied just 28.9% of the vote, then also took nearly 60% in the general election against Democrat Kristin Collum.
The three-way GOP primary race for Idaho attorney general this year features the involvement of several out-of-state groups backing former 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador over longtime GOP incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Labrador has been running on promises to be more of an “activist” attorney general, while Wasden has stressed his commitment to “call legal balls and strikes fairly and squarely.”
Meanwhile, the third GOP hopeful in the race, Coeur d’Alene attorney Art Macomber, has framed himself as the “outsider” candidate and criticized both Labrador and Wasden as “insiders.”
Wasden, the state’s longest-serving attorney general, is seeking a sixth term as the state’s chief legal officer. A Canyon County native and former prosecutor, he joined the Idaho Attorney General’s office in 1989, where he rose through the ranks and was first elected attorney general in 2002. Wasden lists his top issues as the “rule of law” and his accomplishments in his 20 years as Idaho’s attorney general, from litigating successfully against the federal government on an array of state sovereignty issues, to suing tobacco firms and others in consumer protection cases, to creating and overseeing the Internet Crimes Against Children unit, which has opened 815 investigations, made 58 arrests, and trained more than 100 law enforcement officers.
Labrador, an attorney and lobbyist and native of Puerto Rico, served two terms in the Idaho House and then four two-year terms in Congress, where he co-founded the House Freedom Caucus, before stepping down to run unsuccessfully for governor in 2018. Labrador lists his top issues as being an “aggressive, relentless leader,” protecting citizens’ rights, and “pushing back against the radical left,” prompting criticism from Wasden that Labrador, who has advocated for a more political role for Idaho’s attorney general, doesn’t understand the constitutionally defined role of the office.
Macomber is a real estate attorney from Coeur d’Alene who ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature in 2016. The winner will face Steve Scanlin in November, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Three Republicans are vying to be the Republican nominee in the race for Idaho secretary of state. Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane; Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley; and Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, are the three GOP contenders for the open seat, as current GOP Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is retiring rather than seek a third term. The winner of the GOP primary will face Shawn Keenan of Coeur d’Alene in November, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
McGrane has stressed his experience running Idaho elections in the state’s largest county, and working with the Legislature, the secretary of state’s office and the state’s 44 county clerks. Both Moon and Souza have introduced unsuccessful legislation to make sweeping changes in Idaho’s election laws, claiming without evidence that current President Joe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected and that Idaho needs more rigorous election security. McGrane and Moon have both pledged to work to increase Idaho voter education and turnout, while Souza says that should be left to partisan and special-interest groups.
SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION
There are four candidates running to be the next state superintendent of schools, three Republicans and one Democrat.
The GOP field includes incumbent Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, a former third-grade teacher and school administrator who is seeking a third term in the statewide post. Debbie Critchfield is a former president of the State Board of Education who also has co-chaired governor-appointed education task forces and worked in a rural Idaho school district. Branden Durst is a bombastic former Democratic state legislator running as a self-proclaimed “conservative outsider.”
The GOP primary winner will face Terry Gilbert, a 45-year educator and former president of the Idaho Education Association who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Idaho’s congressional races have been quieter leading up to the May 17 primary than the big state races, but there are contested races on both sides of the ticket. Most prominent has been the rematch between 2nd District GOP Congressman Mike Simpson and his 2014 challenger, Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith. There also are three lesser-known Republicans on the ballot; first-grade teacher Wendy Norman of Rigby is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
And while there are no contested races in any party primary for the 1st District congressional seat held by GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher this spring, Idaho’s senior U.S. senator, Mike Crapo, faces four challengers in the Republican primary, and there’s a two-way race between Democrats Ben Pursley of Boise and David Roth of Idaho Falls to face the winner for Senate in November.
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The other GOP candidates on the primary ballot in the Senate race are Brenda Bourn of Meridian, Natalie Fleming of Boise, Scott Trotter of Lewiston, and Ramont Turnbull of Meridian. In the 2nd District congressional race, the other GOP hopefuls are Flint Christensen of Shelley, Daniel Levy of Sun Valley, and Chris Porter of Meridian.
DISTRICT 9 SENATE: Incumbent Sens. Lee, Rice face off in primary
Fourth-term Idaho Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, is the Senate’s assistant majority leader and co-chair of the Child Protection Oversight Committee. She’s served on the joint budget committee, sponsored major legislation to reform Idaho’s foster care system and create a state Oil and Gas Commission, and is currently the only woman in the Senate’s Republican leadership team.
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, a sixth-term senator, chairs the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. An attorney, he’s co-chaired two interim committees on property taxes and this year floated legislation to sharply reduce homeowners’ property taxes while boosting Idaho’s sales tax.
Though the two have been Senate colleagues for years, they’re running against each other in the May GOP primary, thanks to redistricting, along with two other GOP hopefuls, Jordan Marques and Kayla Dunn, all vying for a single seat. No candidates from other parties are running, so the primary will determine the next senator.
DISTRICT 15 SENATE: Martin vs. Galloway in three-way GOP primary
Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, is a fifth-term senator and chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee who only narrowly won reelection in 2018 – by just six votes – against Democrat Jim Bratnober, in a district that’s elected both Democrats and Republicans in recent years. Martin took 53% of the vote two years ago over Democratic challenger Rick Just, who’s running again this year. But this time, he faces a challenge in the GOP primary from current first-term District 15 state Rep. Codi Galloway, R-Boise, along with GOP volunteer Dorothy Greenzang.
“I consider myself a traditional Republican,” said Martin, a retired teacher and businessman. “It’s sad because I feel like right now we have three political parties in Idaho. We have what I consider the traditional Republicans, the Democrats and then we have whatever you want to call them … maybe the far right.”
Galloway, a businesswoman and former teacher, defeated Democratic Rep. Jake Ellis two years ago to win her first term. The niece of current House Transportation Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, she describes herself as a “pro-freedom” candidate and two years ago campaigned on concerns that voters in her district were “frustrated with the liberal agenda.”
In addition to Just, the GOP primary winner will face Constitution Party hopeful Sarah Clendenon in November.
DISTRICT 9 HOUSE: Incumbent Reps. Boyle, Syme vie for seat
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a former aide to then-Congressman Helen Chenoweth who focuses on agriculture, natural resources and gun-rights legislation, is in her seventh House term. Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, is a third-term lawmaker who is a retired Army officer, farmer and real estate business owner and who serves on the joint budget committee and proposed this year’s successful state employee compensation bill.
Redistricting has plunked the two into the same district, and they’re facing off for a single House seat. With no candidates from other parties running, the GOP primary will determine the winner.
Boyle describes herself as “an unapologetic conservative” and says her votes are based on “the Bible and the Constitution.” She’s the former chair of the House Agriculture Committee, a post she lost after making an unsuccessful run against Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, for House majority leader in 2020.
Syme says, “My promise to you is that I will never sell my vote based on a score or a grade by any lobbyist. My votes are based on the content of the legislation and how it affects my constituents and if it is good for Idaho.”
DISTRICT 11 SENATE: Chaney vs. Trakel for open seat
Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, is the current House Judiciary Committee chair, but he’s leaving the House to run for an open Senate seat. He faces Caldwell businessman and former unsuccessful mayoral candidate Chris Trakel in the GOP primary.
Chaney, an attorney, is completing his fourth term in the House, and lists his top issues as law and order, property taxes, and “keeping Idaho Idaho.” He’s drawn attention for pushing back against the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the “physical intimidation” tactics of “the McGeachin Bundy crew.”
“I think we’re at risk of falling into a place where whoever has the best propaganda machine or whoever is the loudest or most frightening gets their way in policy,” he said. “The average citizen’s voice will essentially be pushed out of the political process.”
Trakel, a Marine Corps veteran who has operated a woodworking business, lists his priorities as property taxes and protecting people’s rights and liberties; he said his decision to run for the Senate stems from feeling that politicians are not voting to preserve individual liberties.
The GOP primary winner will face Democrat Toni Ferro and Constitution Party candidate Kurtis Berger in November.
Idaho Press reporters Erin Banks Rusby and Carolyn Komatsoulis contributed to this report.