Idaho primary election guide: Contested races
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter faces a challenge from the right within his own party, as Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher takes him on in the GOP primary. There’s high interest in this contest, as Fulcher portrays himself as the more conservative candidate because he opposes the highly successful state health insurance exchange Otter championed. Otter, in his bid for a third term, says he brought the state through a deep recession and still cut taxes. There also are two other candidates on the GOP ballot, Harley Brown and Walter Bayes, both of whom have frequently run for office but received few votes. On the Democratic side, millionaire businessman and Boise School Board Chairman A.J. Balukoff is the leading candidate; his primary competitor, Terry Kerr of Idaho Falls, hasn’t campaigned and previously ran for local office as a Republican.
• BUTCH OTTER
Background: Otter has served two terms as Idaho’s governor and three terms as its 1st District congressman; before that, he was the state’s lieutenant governor for 14 years and he is a former state legislator. A rodeo enthusiast, businessman and rancher, he has a political science degree from the College of Idaho and a libertarian background.
Distinction: The charismatic cowboy governor has held 74 “Capital for a Day” sessions – one a month since he’s been governor – in small towns around the state, bringing his cabinet and top agency officials to meet with locals and discuss their questions and problems.
• RUSS FULCHER
Background: Fulcher, a fifth-term state senator, works in commercial real estate and previously spent 24 years in the high-tech industry, including international sales work for Micron Technology and serving as vice president of Preco Electronics. He holds both a bachelor’s degree in business and an MBA from Boise State University. He was elected to Senate GOP leadership in 2012.
Distinction: A hard-line social conservative, Fulcher is seen as a leader of the ultra-conservative wing in the state Senate, where he opposed same-sex marriage and abortion and backed attempts to have the state nullify federal laws.
All the action this spring is in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District, where longtime Congressman Mike Simpson faces a primary challenge from tea party candidate Bryan Smith. In North Idaho’s 1st District, second-term incumbent GOP Raul Labrador is virtually assured of victory over four little-known challengers, including one from Rathdrum and one from Moscow. State Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, faces a young first-time candidate, Ryan Barone of Hayden, in the Democratic primary.
Republicans: Labrador, a tea party favorite, is an immigration lawyer from Eagle, a native of Puerto Rico and a former state legislator who’s been talked up as a potential outsider candidate for GOP leadership in Congress. His primary challengers include Sean Blackwell, a hemp advocate from Rathdrum; Michael Greenway, a Boise State University student from Eagle; Reed McCandless, a truck driver from Moscow; and Lisa Marie, a student and children’s activist from Boise.
Democrats: Ringo is a seven-term state representative and retired math teacher from Moscow, and one of the most unabashedly liberal members of Idaho’s Legislature. Barone is a recent graduate of North Idaho College in social work who favors gay marriage, amnesty for immigrants and gun rights.
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch and Democratic challenger Nels Mitchell face only token opposition in the primary election. Risch’s only challenger is Jeremy “T” Anderson, a Meridian resident who’s done no campaigning at all since paying his filing fee in cash; and Mitchell’s is William Bryk, an attorney from Brooklyn, New York, who has never been to Idaho but is running here anyway – and in two other states as well.
Secretary of State
There’s a hot race for Idaho secretary of state this year, as Ben Ysursa, who’s long held that job, retires. The four GOP candidates facing off in the primary include controversial former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, whose state retirement pension would soar if he wins a single term and who’s known for bare-knuckle politics; political newcomer Phil McGrane, the chief deputy Ada County clerk who’s being backed by elected county clerks across the state along with Ysursa and increasing numbers of mainstream Republicans; controversial former Sen. Evan Frasure, who ran against Ysursa in 2002 and lost; and former Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise. The winner will face Democrat Holli Woodings in November; she’s unopposed in the primary.
• LAWERENCE DENNEY
Background: A Vietnam veteran, Denney holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho in agricultural economics. A farmer from Midvale, he served 10 terms in the state House, including three as speaker of the House, before he made history by losing the post in 2012. As speaker, Denney was a staunch backer of tax-protesting former state Rep. Phil Hart. He removed North Idaho Rep. Eric Anderson from a committee vice-chairmanship after Anderson filed an ethics complaint against Hart. Denney now chairs the House Resources Committee and co-chairs an interim committee studying how to get state control of federal land.
Distinction: Denney brought stars from the reality show “Duck Dynasty” to Idaho for a campaign fundraiser in March.
• PHIL MCGRANE
Background: The current chief deputy Ada County clerk, McGrane holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Washington and a law degree from the University of Denver, and is completing a master’s degree in public administration at Boise State University. An elections specialist who both oversees elections in Ada County and has frequently represented county election officials at the state Legislature, he’s an advocate of transparency who wants to make state data more easily searchable online. At Ada County, McGrane added webcams so candidates and voters can watch the actual ballot-counting.
Distinction: After McGrane’s endorsement by Ysursa, Denney began referring to McGrane as the “establishment candidate,” though McGrane’s making his first run for office.
• EVAN FRASURE
Background: A six-term state lawmaker, Frasure chaired the Senate Transportation Committee, served on the joint budget committee, and played key roles in redistricting. Frasure got 34 percent of the vote to Ysursa’s 66 percent in the 2002 GOP primary. A real estate broker for 30 years and a former Melaleuca Inc. marketing executive, Frasure is now a high school history and government teacher.
Distinction: Frasure co-chaired the 2011 citizens redistricting commission that failed to agree on new district lines; he’s long had an interest in the details and strategies of redistricting.
• MITCH TORYANSKI
Background: An attorney and career Army officer who retired in 2010 with the rank of colonel, Toryanski is a West Point graduate with a law degree from American University and a master of strategic studies degree from the Army War College. He served one term in the Idaho Senate before being defeated by a Democrat in 2012. He was an Idaho deputy attorney general for five years and also practiced law in Boise. In his current job, Toryanski does mission command training for Northrop Grumman Corp.
Distinction: While McGrane has won Ysursa’s endorsement, Toryanski’s honorary campaign chair is Freda Cenarrusa, widow of Pete Cenarrusa, the longtime secretary of state who preceded Ysursa and was his mentor.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is among Republicans at the top of the ticket facing a challenge from the right, with Boise attorney C.T. “Chris” Troupis – the lawyer who won the closed-primary lawsuit against the state on behalf of the Idaho GOP – running against him. Bruce Bistline, a Boise attorney, is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
• LAWRENCE WASDEN
Background: Wasden is Idaho’s longest-serving attorney general, now seeking a fourth term. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University and a law degree from the University of Idaho. A former county prosecuting attorney, he was a deputy attorney general for 12 years. As attorney general, Wasden has a record of investigating public corruption cases, including among members of his own party; upsetting some lawmakers by issuing legal opinions pointing out constitutional problems with proposed legislation; and championing compliance with Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws.
Distinction: Wasden successfully sued the state Land Board, on which he serves, contending it wasn’t meeting constitutional requirements in its management of lakefront cottage sites.
• C.T. “CHRIS” TROUPIS
Background: Troupis, a lawyer in solo private practice in Eagle, holds a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a law degree from the University of Southern California. His practice has included everything from constitutional law to business and personal injury law. Troupis ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2008, getting 42 percent of the vote against Democratic Sen. Les Bock.
Distinction: A divided Idaho Legislature voted in 2011 to pay $100,000 in taxpayer funds to Troupis for his attorney fees in the Idaho GOP’s successful lawsuit against the state to close the GOP primary to anyone other than registered Republicans. Troupis represented the party on a “contingent fee” basis, meaning he’d get no fees unless he won the case.
State Supreme Court
There’s one contested race for the Idaho Supreme Court this year, in which Justice Joel Horton, a former district judge who’s been on the high court since 2007, is being challenged by Boise attorney William “Breck” Seiniger. The Tuesday primary election vote is the final decision in this nonpartisan race.
• JOEL HORTON
Background: A former county prosecutor and deputy attorney general who began his career with a small law firm in Lewiston, Horton was named a magistrate judge in 1994 and a district judge two years later. After 11 years, Gov. Butch Otter appointed him to the Supreme Court, where a year later, he narrowly won a full six-year term. Horton holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and a law degree from the University of Idaho.
Distinction: Horton’s wife is also a judge: Ada County Magistrate Judge Carolyn Minder.
• BRECK SEINIGER
Background: A lawyer in private practice for 35 years, Seiniger opened his office in Boise in 1980. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a law degree from the University of Idaho. Seiniger portrays himself as an advocate for the little guy, saying the current court is dominated by attorneys with experience in government and large firms.
Distinction: Seiniger has gone after Horton on ethics grounds, saying he should have disqualified himself in a 2008 case involving Simplot Corp.; Horton denies any conflict.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
The wide-open race for state superintendent of schools, with the retirement of controversial two-term Superintendent Tom Luna, has surprisingly drawn only little-known educators who are vying in the four-way GOP primary. There’s a teacher and Common Core opponent, a district superintendent from Melba, a longtime middle school principal from American Falls and a midlevel district administrator from Mountain Home. The winner faces Democrat Jana Jones in November. The former chief deputy superintendent, Jones is unopposed on the Democratic ticket.
• JOHN EYNON
Background: Eynon is a music and drama teacher in the Cottonwood School District, has worked in curriculum publishing and is retired from the U.S. Navy. He is a former official of Idaho’s Constitution Party and holds a bachelor’s degree in music and arts education from Azusa Pacific University.
Distinction: Eynon vehemently opposes the new Idaho core standards, compares them to communism, and has made his campaign slogan, “Common Sense, not Common Core!”
• ANDY GROVER
Background: Grover has been superintendent of Melba schools for four years and previously worked as a principal, teacher and coach. He served in the Marines during the first Gulf War. He has a master’s degree in education and an educational specialist’s degree and is working on a doctorate at Northwest Nazarene University.
Distinction: The only district superintendent in the race, Grover has been endorsed by 18 other Idaho school district superintendents.
• RANDY JENSEN
Background: Jensen has been a middle school principal in American Falls for the past 25 years. A former Fulbright scholar, Jensen was Idaho’s principal of the year in 2004. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Idaho State University, and K-12 administrator and superintendent certificates.
Distinction: Jensen has called on Idahoans to donate to their local schools rather than contribute money to his campaign, saying the state’s generous tax credit for donations to schools will stretch their money farther.
• SHERRI YBARRA
Background: Ybarra, a curriculum director for the Mountain Home school district, has been a principal, assistant principal, federal programs director and teacher; she taught for 11 years and has been an administrator for six. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and is working on an educational specialist’s degree she expects to receive this summer from the University of Idaho.
Distinction: In response to an Idaho GOP platform survey, Ybarra wrote that she differs from the party platform in part because she supports early-childhood education.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little is among the GOP incumbents facing a challenge from the right, with Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik running against him in the primary. The lieutenant governor is a part-time position; duties include presiding over the Senate during the legislative session, and filling in as acting governor when the governor is out of state or incapacitated.
• BRAD LITTLE
Background: A four-term state senator and prominent rancher, Little was appointed lieutenant governor in 2009 and won a four-year term in 2010. He holds a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness from the University of Idaho. An Emmett native, Little is the grandson of Idaho’s famed “sheep king,” Andy Little.
Distinction: Little’s campaign for re-election, which has included a 19-stop announcement tour around the state, billboards and more, has been more prominent for the past eight months than that of Gov. Butch Otter.
• JIM CHMELIK
Background: A second-term Idaho County commissioner and the current commission chairman, Chmelik owns Chesky Woodworking, a millwork and cabinet shop in Cottonwood specializing in custom cabinets, moldings and furniture. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Maryland; he moved to Idaho in 2000.
Distinction: An outspoken advocate of state takeover of federal lands, Chmelik says if elected, he’d use the position to travel the nation promoting the idea.
Idaho state Controller Brandon Woolf was appointed to the post in 2012 after former Controller Donna Jones was injured in a serious automobile accident; he was her chief deputy. As he seeks a full four-year term, he’s being challenged by businessman Todd Hatfield, a log home company owner who ran into trouble with a state timber sale. The controller’s duties are largely administrative, including overseeing the state payroll system and supervising 90 employees, but also include a seat on the state Land Board.
• BRANDON WOOLF
Background: Woolf started in the controller’s office as an intern in 1997 and worked his way up, serving as payroll division chief, deputy chief of staff and more before taking the top post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Utah State University and an MBA from Boise State University. Woolf launched Transparent.Idaho.gov, a website that makes state financial data available online, tapping his existing office budget.
Distinction: Woolf is fluent in Dutch, after serving a church mission in Belgium, and holds a commercial driver’s license after driving a milk truck full time during college.
• TODD HATFIELD
Background: Owner of Hatfield Log Homes and Idaho Grain and Flour, Hatfield is also second vice chair of the Idaho Republican Party Executive Committee. He holds an associate’s degree in accounting from Champlain College. He ran for controller in 2010, taking 44 percent of the vote to Jones’ 56 percent.
Distinction: Hatfield went before the Land Board in 2009 to request a hardship forgiveness of $203,000 he still owed on a 2006 state timber sale for his log home business. The board granted him $70,619 in relief. He told the Idaho Statesman newspaper, “That’s what got me interested” in running for the job.
Idaho state Treasurer Ron Crane is unopposed in the primary. He’s a Republican who made headlines in recent years for a critical state audit suggesting he cost the state millions of dollars in earnings, which he disputes; for using limousines on a state-paid trip to New York; and for charging the state for gas for his commute from home to the Capitol. Two candidates are vying on the Democratic ticket for a chance to challenge him in November.
• DEBORAH SILVER
Background: Silver is a CPA from Twin Falls and has served as the Twin Falls County chairwoman for the Democratic Party for the past seven years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Boise State University. She has been a partner in her CPA business for 24 years and is a former auditor. She also serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.
Distinction: Silver says the state treasurer’s office now has two professional accountants on its staff. “With me, you get three at no extra charge.”
• W. LANE STARTIN
Background: Startin is a freelance writer and editor who previously worked in credit card processing and as an insurance agent. He has served as a Democratic precinct committeeman and is a former president of the Idaho Young Democrats. Startin holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Idaho State University.
Distinction: Startin wants to use the office as a “bully pulpit” to advocate for discrimination protections for gays and to invest state funds into student loans and grants.
Here are the contested legislative races in North Idaho:
DISTRICT 1: Ninth-term Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, faces a primary challenge from Danielle Ahrens, whom she easily defeated two years ago. The race for retiring Rep. Eric Anderson’s seat include two candidates who filed as Democrats, Laura Bry and Steve Tanner, and two Republicans, Heather Scott and Stephen Snedden, who’s been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter. There also are four candidates for the other House seat, with seventh-term Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, facing Sage Dixon in the primary; and a Democratic contest between Andrew Sorg and Bob Vickaryous.
DISTRICT 2: Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, faces firefighter Fritz Wiedenhoff in the GOP primary; Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, faces insurance agent Eric Redman.
DISTRICT 3: Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, has a primary challenge from businessman Patrick Whalen. Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, has one from longtime Post Falls city official Terry Werner. Three Republicans are facing off for retiring Rep. Frank Henderson’s seat: Don Cheatham, a retired police officer from Southern California; Jeff Ward, head of the Reagan Republicans group; and Avista official Greg Gfeller, whom Henderson has endorsed.
DISTRICT 4: Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, faces activist Mary Souza in the primary. Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, faces recent California transplant Toby Schindelbeck. Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, is being challenged by former Kootenai County Commissioner Rick Currie.
DISTRICT 5: Jim Minser of Emida, a former Libertarian candidate for the Nevada Legislature, faces Gary Osborn of Troy, who served 10 years on the local school board and also served on the Idaho Water Resources Board, in the Democratic primary for the seat now held by longtime Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. She’s running for Congress.
DISTRICT 7: Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, faces a primary challenge from Shauna Hillman, a longtime Wallace businesswoman and director of the local depot museum.
Kootenai County Commissioner
Todd Tondee is going up against two Republican challengers in the May 20 primary election. Also, two candidates are seeking the Democratic Party’s nod to take on the GOP nominee this fall.
• MARC EBERLEIN
Background: Eberlein, the founder of a Post Falls cabinetry manufacturer, previously ran for county commissioner in 2012.
Distinction: He wants to review county finances and meet department heads and employees to better understand the problems they face serving the public. “Honesty, common sense, practicality, fairness and a commitment to serve the people of Kootenai County are the virtues I would bring as a member of the commissioner team,” he said. Eberlein opposes restructuring county government, is against the new county land use code as drafted and will not support impact fees. He also said he opposes a new county government complex and a larger, privately built jail that could house inmates from other areas.
• TIM HERZOG
Background: This is Herzog’s third run for county commissioner since 2008. He sells real estate and has been active with a North Idaho motorcycle rights organization that lobbies lawmakers. He also has held positions with the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce and with Post Falls city committees, with an emphasis on economic development.
Distinction: Herzog said he has no political agenda. “My efforts to be your County Commissioner over the years should be evident in my persistence to run for this position even though the odds may be against me.” Herzog said he stands for open and transparent government and promises to be fiscally responsible.
• TODD TONDEE
Background: Tondee has served two two-year terms and one four-year term, and he is seeking another four-year term as commissioner. He owns a Post Falls car lot.
Distinction: Tondee said he is focused on long-range planning to prepare for growth and protect quality of life in the county. Other big issues on the county’s agenda, he said, are the overcrowded jail and county worker office space. Tondee said he listened to county residents who opposed a complete revision of the county’s land use rules, and he voted with the other commissioners to terminate the contract of the consultant handling the update and demote the former planning director.
• TAMRA DALE II
Background: Dale recently changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. The Kootenai County Democrats said she is not an authentic Democratic candidate and threw its support behind her primary opponent, Bruce Noble.
Distinction: Dale did not respond to questions about her candidacy.
• BRUCE NOBLE
Background: Noble is an engineer and land surveyor who founded a renewable energy company. He served on the Idaho Commission for Libraries and the Post Falls School District’s long-range planning committee.
Distinction: He said current commissioners lack leadership and management, so he supports a commission-manager form of government with five part-time commissioners instead of three who are full time. County seats should be nonpartisan, the coroner and treasurer should be appointed positions, and county highway districts should be consolidated, Noble said. He favors a uniform land use code “that protects private property rights and defines a clear process to property development.”
Other Kootenai County races
Fourteen candidates are pursuing party nominations next week for four county seats: assessor, treasurer, clerk and coroner:
ASSESSOR: Republican incumbent Mike McDowell, first elected in 2002, faces a primary challenge from real estate appraiser Patrick Galles. Longtime conservative Larry Spencer is seeking the Democratic Party nomination, as is write-in candidate Shirley McFadden, an unsuccessful challenger in a state Senate race two years ago.
TREASURER: Laurie Thomas, the county’s chief deputy treasurer, and Steven Matheson, who works in financial management in the private sector, are seeking the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, retired certified public accountant and former IRS agent Janet Callen is squaring off with retired firefighter Gordy Ormesher.
CLERK: Jim Brannon, appointed clerk in December, is running against former state Rep. Don Pischner for the GOP nomination. Larry Belmont, former longtime director of Panhandle Health District, and Alanna Brooks, a Ron Paul delegate in 2008, are seeking the Democratic nod to run in the November general election.
CORONER: Republican Warren Keene, an emergency room physician at Kootenai Health, is challenging Debbie Wilkey, who is seeking re-election to a second term. No one filed as a Democrat.