After months of searching for a candidate for Idaho’s top office, Democrats announced on Tuesday that former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley could be its standard bearer this fall.
“We could not be more excited to hear that Bob Huntley is interested in the governor’s race,” state Democratic Executive Director Karen White said.
Huntley’s entry into the race, purportedly contingent on his raising $100,000 by the April 3 close of filing, provides the first legitimate challenge to the odds-on-favorite, Republican U.S. Dirk Kempthorne.
Without any viable Democrat in the field, Kempthorne had been the uncontested heir apparent to retiring GOP Gov. Phil Batt.
Two independents and a long shot in both the Republican and Democratic primaries have also indicated their intentions to run.
“I am looking forward to talking about the issues that are important to our state,” Huntley said. “Our campaign will focus on economic development, education and better-paying jobs for all Idahoans.”
In Kempthorne’s last campaign, for the U.S. Senate in 1992, Democratic challenger Richard Stallings, a four-term congressman, fired his first broadside at Kempthorne by criticizing the then-Boise mayor’s record on the economy when the state’s capital city was enjoying a long-running financial boom.
Kempthorne, who raised more than $1.3 million for his race six years ago, opened this year’s campaign with more than $200,000 and prospects for raising even more than in 1992 if necessary.
And cash could be a problem for Democrats.
Democrat Larry EchoHawk, the party’s 1994 nominee, managed to raise more than $1.3 million in his unsuccessful bid to become the nation’s first Indian governor, much of it from outside the state. But Batt raised nearly $100,000 more, and most of his cash came from inside Idaho.
Even with heavy support from throughout the United States, millionaire businessman Walt Minnick matched just over $1 million in contributions with nearly $1 million of his own money and was still outspent by incumbent Republican Sen. Larry Craig by $600,000.
This campaign is also the first being conducted under new contribution limits of $5,000 for the primary and $5,000 for the general election.
Huntley has been a partner in a Boise law firm since he left the Supreme Court in August 1989, earning a reputation in the field of age discrimination in the workplace. He has been the lead attorney for school districts that have spent years challenging the equity of state support for public education, especially its lack of support for school facilities.
He is also a local attorney for FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi, who is charged with manslaughter in the 1992 death of the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver during the federal siege of Weaver’s remote Panhandle cabin.
He served on the high court for seven years, where he remained adamant that the state’s death penalty law was not constitutional because it did not involve a jury in the sentencing phase. He was generally a centrist, though he at times aligned himself with now-retired civil rights activist Stephen Bistline.
Before being named to the court, Huntley practiced law in Pocatello and served his only term in the House of Representatives during the landmark 1965 session when the 3 percent state sales tax to bolster education was approved and ratified by voters the next year.