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Saturday, September 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Election leaves Idaho Legislature with just one Democrat from north of Boise

Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer
Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer

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By Betsy Z. Russell

If you thought the Idaho Legislature couldn’t get more Republican, think again.

Tuesday’s election results bumped up the GOP supermajority in the Idaho Legislature from 80 percent to 84 percent, as Republicans picked up one Senate seat and three seats in the House. There’s now just one Democrat serving in the Idaho Legislature from north of Boise – Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer.

“I think we’re lucky to have her there,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who lost his own re-election bid. “But it will be a lonely ride home on the weekends, that’s for sure.”

Jordan, in a statement posted on Facebook Wednesday morning, said, “I am proud of my team for staying the course, remaining positive and upholding our dignity above all. Truth and integrity will always prevail. While it is bittersweet to win in such a large loss both local and national, we must remain hopeful and optimistic that our vision of equality and balance will soon be achieved.”

Jordan is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and first-term representative who eked out a narrow win over GOP challenger Carl Berglund.

The two highest-profile Democratic losses were Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow – the two physicians who’ve been the leading voices for expanding Medicaid to serve 78,000 uninsured Idahoans who now fall into a health coverage gap.

The other two GOP gains came in open seats, as Republicans picked up a House seat in generally Democratic Pocatello that the incumbent had left to run for Senate, and former Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, staged a successful comeback, winning the District 6 House seat she lost to Democrat Dan Rudolph two years ago; Rudolph retired.

In the Panhandle, where Democrats mounted energetic campaigns this year aimed at existing GOP seats, all fell short. Controversial Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, defeated Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce President Kate McAlister, her Democratic challenger, 59.6 percent to 40.4 percent.

In District 4 in Coeur d’Alene, University of Idaho employee Paul Amador, a relative newcomer who defeated GOP Rep. Kathy Sims in the primary, garnered 63.3 percent of the vote against Coeur d’Alene school board member and longtime area resident Tom Hearn.

Rusche, who served as House minority leader for the past eight years, said he’s long been saying that it’s getting more difficult for Democrats to win in northern Idaho. “The typical Democratic constituency, which has been the woodworkers, the natural resource industry, the unions, etc., they’re either not there or they’re not as potent and powerful,” he said. “And the Democrats that are here get caught in the urban-rural divide. The national Democratic Party and the state party coming out of Boise just is not something that appeals to most of the electorate up here.”

He added, “The districts in the Boise area are different than the districts out here in the hinterlands.”

The Idaho Legislature that will convene next month for its organizational session will have 88 Republican members and 17 Democratic members. That’s a House split of 59 Republicans to 11 Democrats; and a Senate split of 29 Republicans to six Democrats.

This is not, however, the lowest Idaho Democrats have fallen in the Legislature. That came in 2001-02, when the number of Democrats in the Idaho House fell to nine and the number in the Senate to just three, prompting lots of jokes about the Senate Democratic caucus holding its meetings in a phone booth. The previous session, in 1999-2000, saw just 12 Democrats in the Idaho House and four in the Senate – a total between the two houses, 16, that’s one lower than the new figure after Tuesday’s election.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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