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Longest-serving Democrat in Idaho Legislature dies from pancreatic cancer

Idaho Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise at the State Capitol building on Jan. 9.   (Otto Kitsinger/For the Idaho Capital Sun)
By Clark Corbin Idaho Capital Sun

Rep. Sue Chew, the longest serving Democrat in the Idaho Legislature, died on Wednesday following a battle with pancreatic cancer, officials with the Idaho Democratic Party said.

A licensed pharmacist by trade, Chew, D-Boise, served nine terms in the Idaho House of Representatives after being elected in 2006.

Chew was born March 31, 1958, and died on Wednesday, said Avery Roberts, communications director for the Idaho Democratic Party.

Idaho political leaders from both sides of the aisle remembered Chew as a champion of health care, an advocate for her constituents and a voice for the voiceless.

“Sue Chew was known for her moral clarity and huge heart for the people at risk of being left behind,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, who is also chairperson of the Idaho Democratic Party.

“She was deeply committed to inclusive representation and was a tireless door-knocker, always keeping in touch with her constituents and their needs,” Necochea added.

On Thursday morning, Republican Gov. Brad Little ordered that American flags and Idaho flags be flown at half-staff in tribute to Chew until sunset on Friday.

“Rep. Sue Chew was one of the state’s longest serving current members of the Idaho Legislature, and she served her constituents in Boise’s District 17 with passion and dedication,” Little said in a written statement issued Thursday. “As the Legislature’s only pharmacist she was a tireless advocate for the expansion of the role of pharmacy in health care, among her other achievements. She was a strong ally on a variety of health care policy issues, and she will be deeply missed by her community, colleagues in government and many loved ones.”

During her tenure, Chew was named 2014 Idaho Democratic Party Legislator of the Year. In 2018, Chew sponsored House BIll 649, a good Samaritan law that provides that certain people seeking medical attention for a drug overdose shall not be charged with possession of controlled substances or drug paraphernalia.

“Sue walked the talk in every aspect of her life,” Rep. Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise, wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. “She always put people first and modeled for all of us the importance of humility and dedication. She will be missed.”

Idaho House honored Chew last month

While battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, Chew did not serve during the 2024 legislative session and had a series of substitute legislators serve in her place. On March 27, Chew visited the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, and members of the Idaho House honored Chew with a standing ovation while she looked on from the House gallery, surrounded by family.

As Chew looked on, the Idaho House adopted House Resolution 7, which honored Chew and memorialized the Idaho House’s “deep appreciation and respect for her remarkable achievements and contributions to society.”

Chew was tied for the second-longest serving current Idaho legislator of any party, trailing only House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star, and his 13 terms of office.

During her visit to the Idaho State Capitol on March 27, Moyle personally thanked Chew for her service and put the Idaho House at ease to allow legislators to stand and applaud her.

“You and I have been in this building quite awhile together, and we’ve had a lot of fun through the years,” Moyle told Chew from the House floor. “You’ve always been honest, easily approachable and you’ve always had what’s best for your constituents at heart, and I know that I personally appreciate that and you’ll be missed when you’re not sitting in the back seat (on the House floor).”

Chew’s term in the Idaho Legislature runs through December and will be up for election in November. Idaho Democrats from Chew’s Legislative District 17 will submit a list of three nominees to finish out Chew’s current term to Little within 15 days, Roberts said. Little will then pick one of the names from the list to appoint to finish Chew’s term.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence.