House Minority Leader John Rusche, who’s held that position for the past eight years and served two years before that as House Democratic caucus chair, lost his seat yesterday to Republican Mike Kingsley, 41.8 percent to Kingsley’s 58.2 percent. “Obviously the district wanted a different kind of representation,” Rusche said today. “I mean, 3,000 votes is not an error of campaigning or anything else like that. It’s just part of the wave, I think. And I’m real proud of the campaign that I ran. I worked harder than I had in any other campaign, but it just wasn’t to be.”
Rusche, a retired physician and insurance executive, 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.”
His defeat comes along with that of Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow – the other lawmaker-physician who, with Rusche, has led the years-long push to close Idaho’s health care coverage gap, which now leaves 78,000 state residents uninsured and without any aid – making too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance coverage through the state insurance exchange. “I do have a concern for what health care policy in the state is like,” Rusche said. “Going forward, there’s going to need to be somebody, maybe it’s Maryanne Jordan – I don’t know who’s going to be the spokesman for it, but the issues are going to still be there.”
Jordan is the Boise Democratic senator who’s been serving on the Legislature’s interim working group on the coverage gap; she won re-election Tuesday, taking 62.9 percent of the vote against her Republican challenger, Robert Herrin III.
“But I think that even prior to yesterday, even prior to the election, I thought it would be a very difficult thing to get the House Republican leadership particularly, but the leadership, to saliently move forward on that issue,” Rusche said. “I think when you saw the leadership pick the interim committee members, it was pretty clear to me that it was unlikely there would be a concerted action to move forward on it.”
Looking ahead for Idaho Democrats, Rusche said, “I think that both the Senate and the House personalities will change. And certainly the Democratic leadership will have to reassess what it is that their caucus wants them to do.”
He said, “While I may not have had great electoral success in increasing the size of my caucus, I do think that I’ve had pretty significant success legislatively, both in the health care arena and in others as well.” Asked his advice to legislative Democrats who succeed him, Rusche said, “I think the important thing is to look to the best interest of the people that you serve. And being a minority, a small minority, it’s important to have good relationships and the ability to find people in the majority party that can think rationally and work with you.”