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Eye on Boise: Races simmer after heated primaries

Sun., Sept. 16, 2012

BOISE – The northernmost legislative district in Idaho, District 1, saw some of the hottest election contests in the state in May’s primary, with tea party challengers trying to knock off longtime Republican incumbents and lots of outside interests taking sides. But it’s a different story in the general election contest this fall.

Although Democratic challengers originally had filed to challenge all three GOP incumbents, two of the three have withdrawn their names from the ballot, and the third isn’t actively campaigning.

“I had only filed as a placeholder,” said former Democratic Senate candidate Laura Bry, of Sandpoint, adding that the idea was that she or someone else would run if the incumbent, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, lost in the primary.

“Shawn won the primary, so there you go,” said Bry, who is chair of the Bonner County Democrats. “If I am ever going to be a real candidate, the one person I’m not going to run against is Shawn Keough, because I’ve known her too long, she got me into local politics and our kids grew up together.”

Besides, Bry said, “Most Democrats I meet are actually pretty happy with our representatives in the Legislature. They do a really good job of representing the legislative district.”

Former Democratic state Sen. Tim Tucker, who had filed to run against Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said he, too, was just a placeholder. Andrew Sorg, of Sandpoint, is still on the ballot to challenge Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, but Sorg hasn’t actively campaigned and didn’t return repeated phone and email messages.

“Personally, I have to take it seriously – if his name is on the ballot, I’m going to have to run a race,” said Anderson, a four-term representative. “But my races are always pretty cordial anyway.”

Keough, an eighth-term senator, said, “I intend to still mount a campaign, albeit a lot less expensive one. I’m still going out and meeting and greeting and participating in the forums that I can make it to, because the campaign, really, is a time to reconnect with people and find out how you’re doing.”

Keough said, “I am humbled by what has occurred. … Beyond the inner partisan challenges that you saw expressed in the primary in our races, the majority of people, regardless of their political affiliation, appear to be content, I guess, with the jobs that we’re doing.”

Keough, Eskridge and Anderson all handily defeated their primary challengers.

Labrador’s a what?

According to an open-government website that crunches numbers on members of Congress, Idaho 1st District U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador is a “centrist-GOP follower” who misses more votes than anyone else in the delegation; and Sen. Jim Risch is a “lonely far-right Republican follower.”

That might not be where Idahoans would have guessed the two ranked. Furthermore, 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson was classified as a “rank-and-file Republican,” while Sen. Mike Crapo was termed a “moderate Republican leader.”

The website,, offers an interesting take on ideology and leadership that assigns each member a political spectrum score and a leader-follower score based on which bills they co-sponsor and who co-sponsors their bills. That’s how those classifications for Idaho’s members were developed.

The site also tracks missed recorded and roll-call votes, and on that measure, Labrador fared the worst, missing 4.7 percent of recorded or roll-call votes, nearly double the median of 2.5 percent, from January 2011 to September 2012. That’s 72 of 1,518 votes.

Where money would go …

I quizzed Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, about the what-if question I explored in last Sunday’s column: What happens if voters in November reject Propositions 1, 2 and 3, repealing state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform laws, which already are being phased in?

A rejection of the three referenda would leave roughly $33 million sitting appropriated but unallocated in the public school budget for the current year; if lawmakers took no action during their 2013 session, it’d flow into the state’s Public Education Stabilization Fund at the end of the school year.

“The Legislature’s going to act one way or the other, and we’re going to appropriate the funds one way or another,” Cameron said. “I think JFAC and the Legislature would certainly address it. Putting the funds toward salaries is very plausible, particularly the money that was allocated for pay for performance.” Other portions could go to discretionary funding for school districts, he said. “To me, those would be reasonable expectations.”

Cameron added, “I know the Legislature’s not going to sit back and say … this money isn’t going to be allocated towards education. It’s going to be applied to education in a way that’s appropriate.”

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