Even as a push from the right to take over the Idaho Republican Party was falling short at the state level, it was succeeding beyond expectations in North Idaho, where two longtime state lawmakers were unceremoniously dumped in Tuesday’s GOP primary.
A third was turned out after just one term, and four arch-conservative incumbents whose challengers were endorsed by GOP Gov. Butch Otter cruised to victory in a low-turnout election that saw barely over one in five registered voters cast a ballot.
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, lost in the primary to city hall critic Mary Souza, after serving eight terms in the Senate.
“I was shocked,” said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. “He’s served for 14 years now, he’s been the tip of the spear on some really, really difficult issues that have made Idaho a better place to live and raise families, educate our kids. And he was just dismissed,” Malek said. “It was very shocking.”
Kootenai County’s voter turnout was just 21.7 percent of registered voters; statewide, turnout was 25 percent.
Malek, a Coeur d’Alene native and rising GOP star, won his own Republican primary race by just 200 votes – against a newcomer from Chico, Calif. with no ties to the area. Malek said when he went door to door, he found voters unaware of state legislative issues, and more focused on “frustration at the local level and outrage at the federal level.”
“We’re lumped in,” he said, “despite the fact that we have our own set of issues that we deal with at the state level.”
Said Goedde, “It was real apparent that there were two camps in Kootenai County, and both camps had candidates for most offices, and I guess the camp for the far right was better able to get its supporters to the polls.”
Seven-term Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, was ousted in the primary by Sage Dixon of Ponderay, an electrical contractor and unsuccessful candidate for county commissioner two years ago.
Freshman Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, lost to insurance agent Eric Redman by a large margin – 61 percent to 39 percent. But only 4,746 people cast ballots in that race. Each legislative district has a population of roughly 45,000 people. In 2012, Morse got 13,555 votes to win the seat in the general election.
“There was pretty much a tea party groundswell up here in Kootenai County and in Bonner County, so we lost a significant number of seats to those particular interests,” said Morse.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, a 9th-term senator who held her seat with just 53.8 percent of the vote over the same tea party challenger she trounced two years ago, said, “We saw a lot of people angry about not having jobs or employment opportunities, mad at issues that are really based in Washington, D.C., like Obamacare and federal lands access issues. And the tea party folks, they were very well organized, and they capitalized on the anger people have regarding their ability to make a living.”
Though every challenge from the right to a statewide elected official failed in Tuesday’s GOP primary, which saw Gov. Butch Otter win the nomination to run for a third term in November, the picture was far different in the north. Here are the results of North Idaho legislative races:
Keough defeated Danielle Ahrens, 53.8 percent to 46.2 percent, in the GOP primary. Tea party candidate Heather Scott won the GOP contest for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, with 64 percent of the vote to Sandpoint attorney Stephen Snedden’s 36 percent; Snedden was endorsed by Otter. In the Democratic primary for that seat, Laura Bry easily defeated Steve Tanner. Rep. George Eskridge lost to Dixon, 46.5 percent to 53.5 percent.
DISTRICT 2: Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, trounced firefighter Fritz Wiedenhoff in the GOP primary with two thirds of the vote; Otter endorsed Wiedenhoff. Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, lost to Eric Redman, 39 percent to 61 percent.
DISTRICT 3: Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, easily turned back a primary challenge from businessman Patrick Whalen, 65 percent to 35 percent. Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, had a near-identical margin over longtime Post Falls city official Terry Werner. Don Cheatham, a retired police officer from southern California and recent transplant to the area, defeated two candidates for the House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls; both Henderson and Otter had endorsed Avista official Greg Gfeller, who ran third after Jeff Ward.
DISTRICT 4: Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, lost to Mary Souza in the primary, 46 percent to 54 percent. Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, defeated recent California transplant Toby Schindelbeck, 53 percent to 47 percent. Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, beat former Kootenai County Commissioner Rick Currie in the GOP primary, 61 percent to 39 percent.
DISTRICT 5: Gary Osborn of Troy, who served 10 years on the local school board and also served on the Idaho Water Resources Board, easily won the Democratic primary over Jim Minser of Emida, a former Libertarian candidate for the Nevada Legislature, for the seat now held by longtime Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; she’s running for Congress.
DISTRICT 7: Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, held off a challenge from Shauna Hillman, longtime Wallace businesswoman and director of the local depot museum, 63 percent to 37 percent.