Primary Election 2022: The State of Idaho Democratic Party

Coming Friday in the Idaho Capital Sun: The State of the Republican Party as the 2022 Election Approaches.

Long the political underdogs in deep-red Idaho, Democrats say a rise in extremism within the far-right Republican Party has given them an opportunity to gain political ground in the Gem State.

Between Republican-led moves toward reduce funding for higher educationcut money for the library committeetry to eliminate protections that prevent librarians from being imprisonedpass Texas-style abortion law and a barrage of GOP-sponsored bills to make last-minute changes to voting and registration laws While critics say it would be harder to vote, Idahoans are showing an appetite for something different, said Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise.

“I think we have more momentum in our party since the days of Cecil Andrus and Frank Church,” said Necochea, who was elected party chairman in March. “Idahoans from all walks of life are seeing extremism manifest in the Idaho Legislature and are deeply concerned about the future of our state.”

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But gaining ground feels more like a long-term goal for Democrats. Major changes in the short term will be difficult given the rotation of Democratic leadership ranks and the lack of candidates Democrats are running in this year’s legislative elections.

Necochea referenced two of Idaho’s most beloved Democratic Party officials – Andrus, who served as governor for a total of 14 years across two terms and Church, the former U.S. senator who was instrumental in the creation of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, which was renamed in his honor.

But these leaders were from a different generation, and a new group of Democrats will have to overcome a set of current and historical challenges if they are to gain traction.

Church left the U.S. Senate in 1981 and Andrus left office in 1995. Since then, the situation has been largely downgraded for Democrats in Idaho, who have been on the wrong side of a supermajority for years now. Heading into this year’s election, Republicans control the Idaho Senate 28-7 and hold a 58-12 advantage in the Idaho House of Representatives.

Necochea, who also sits on the Democratic leadership as Deputy House Minority Leader, thinks that can change.

“We want to flip at least five legislative seats this year, and we want to do that by focusing on a few areas where we’re reaching out to voters,” Necochea said.

Deputy Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, listens to the debate on the floor of the House at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

It sounds like a cliché, but the 2022 election in Idaho is the most important in years. All 105 seats are up for election this year, as are all state offices – including governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction. On top of that, all of the state’s legislative and congressional districts were redrawn in 2021 during the redistricting process, and some officials are predicting record revenue potential to the Idaho House of Representatives or the Idaho Senate in 2023.

For these reasons, the decisions made by the people of Idaho in the May 17 primary election and November 8 general election will shape state government and Idaho politics for years to come.

Idaho Democrats have so few candidates that the Republican majority will continue no matter what

Even with push back extremism quoted by Necochea, Democrats have struggled to recruit candidates and are not fielding candidates in most Idaho races this year.

There is not a single contested Democratic legislative primary election in May.

Of the 105 seats up for grabs in the Idaho Legislative Assembly, Democrats are not running for 60 of the seats, ensuring the Republican majority will continue into 2023 before even a single vote is counted this year.

On top of that, Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad failed to qualify to appear on the Democratic Party primary ballot because he was still registered as a Republican, the Idaho secretary of state’s office said.

“The Democrats are facing a few challenges, and one of them may even be able to recruit candidates to run,” said Jaclyn Kettler, an associate professor of political science at Boise State University. “It seems to be a major challenge for the legislative elections where the Democratic candidates are not on the ballot.”

David Adler, a political scientist who is president of the nonprofit Alturas Institute in Idaho Falls and who has studied Idaho politics for decades, said a model of Republican dominance works against Democrats.

“A one-party model of dominance in this state depresses turnout in Democratic primaries and races for the simple reason that potential candidates see the prospect of victory as dim,” Adler said. “So it takes real commitment, perseverance and courage from Democratic candidates ready to enter a race.”

Idaho Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 2002, when Marilyn Howard was reelected as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Democrats haven’t controlled a majority in the Idaho Legislature since 1959, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House — though the Idaho Senate was split 21/21 in 1991 , the last year there were 42 seats in the Idaho Senate. .

Necochea acknowledged that recruiting legislative candidates was a challenge this year.

“It’s a priority for us, and we’re building a bench of candidates, starting at the local level, starting with the county commission,” Necochea said. “One challenge we’ve seen over the past few years has been an increase in extremism and threats against elected officials across the county, and that’s also true in Idaho. A majority of Idahoans don’t want or do not support this vitriol. We understand that we might disagree… but that is unacceptable go to individuals elected officials and that is what we are up against. This makes it a little more difficult to recruit candidates in this tense environment. »

Tom Luna, state party chairman for the Idaho Republican Party, said there are major differences between Republicans and Democrats and the GOP has a message that Idahoans have embraced.

“We have a physiological difference about the appropriate role of government,” Luna said. “You have a side that really believes the answer is bigger government and more programs, okay, more government programs. On the other side, Republicans insist on less government and know you need strong families. So everything we do should build strong families, however you define families. We don’t need a big government where families are weak and unable to function as a unit and increasingly rely on government programs.

Despite challenges, Democrats hope to land legislative seats this year

Despite their challenges, Democrats are not giving up.

Nechochea said Democrats support several policies that would benefit Idahoans and are popular politically. Democrats support reindexing the homeowner’s exemption to control property tax rates and repealing the sales tax on groceries.

“We continue to promote a suite of policy solutions that uplift working families that stand in stark contrast to the policies Republicans continue to embrace that benefit profitable businesses and people at the top of the income ladder,” said Necochea.

Democrats are also working to build relationships with Latino and Hispanic voters. Last year, Democrats hired their first outreach coordinator to build those bridges and work on Latino concerns.

“We are very focused on outreach to Hispanic voters,” Necochea said. “Idaho Democrats and the Latino community have many common values.”

Adler said political power structures in the state may change, but it will take hard work and it won’t happen in one or two election cycles. Adler said that for change to happen, Idahoans would have to decide that political platforms and laws do not represent the immediate or long-term interests of ordinary working Idahoans. He said an example of this is the Republican-controlled legislature focusing its efforts on a major income tax cut in 2022 rather than policies that would further help middle-class Idahoans and improve the quality of life for more people. Adler said it’s the job of Democrats to educate the public about where politics doesn’t align with the public interest. Next, Adler said Democrats should focus on attracting independent voters and moderate Republicans to the Democratic Party, instead of allowing independents or Democrats to affiliate as Republicans in an attempt to block. the extreme right within the Republican Party.

Adler said the key, instead, is getting people to walk through and reshape the Democratic Party to reflect the interests of more and more everyday Idahoans.

“It would marginalize the far right in Idaho; it would put them on an island,” Adler said. “If they really want to marginalize the far right and really want to create better policy programs and laws that don’t reflect extremism, that’s the way to accomplish that mission.”

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