BOISE | Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo will both have Democratic opponents in November, and some local GOP lawmakers will have to face opponents sooner than that.
Twin Falls Republican Rep. Steve Hartgen has a Republican primary challenger — Mary Bello, a tea party organizer who backed Rex Rammell's gubernatorial primary challenge to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter in 2010. And Reggy Sternes, of Jerome, is taking on Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, in the GOP primary.
Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, is facing two GOP primary challengers as well as an independent and a Libertarian candidate in the general election.
The filing period for the May primary closed at the end of business Friday. Boise businessman Jerry Sturgill is running as a Democrat against Crapo, joining Pro-Life (a person who legally changed his name) and Ray Writz, who are running against him on the Constitution Party line.
Simpson, of Blackfoot, who has been in Congress since 1999, is facing a primary challenge from Boisean Lisa Marie, and in the general election he will face Democrat Jennifer Martinez, a Boise resident who has worked for the state party and also used to be organizing director for the Idaho Community Action Network. Anthony Tomkins, of Twin Falls, is also running for that seat on the Constitution Party line.
In state legislative District 25, which covers Jerome and much of rural Twin Falls counties, the only competitive race in the general election is between incumbent Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, and Democrat Scott McClure. Bell, who has been in the Legislature since 1989 and co-chairs the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, is facing Sternes in the GOP primary.
Sternes, a California native who graduated from Jerome High School and has spent most of his life in Idaho and in the U.S. Navy, already has a campaign website up, where he says he chose to take on Bell because, out of all the incumbents in his district, she has the lowest ranking on the Idaho Freedom Foundation's "Freedom Index."
"It’s essential that our district elects a Representative that doesn’t play the same 'progressive games,'" Sternes wrote in a posting announcing his run. "We need a representative that believes in free markets, less regulations, and less taxes. We need to return to our county’s founding principles, that government’s role is to preserve liberty not to rule over us with more laws, more taxes, and less freedom."
The conservative IFF is one of the most visible groups at the Capitol during the session, testifying and lobbying for and against bills, reporting on the Capitol through its affiliated Idaho Reporter website, and scoring lawmakers on the "Freedom Index," where they rank some bills and assign lawmakers scores based on their votes. The Magic Valley's lawmakers, who generally fall into the "establishment" Republican camp, tend to rank lower than many of their more right-wing Republican colleagues and lower than some Democrats.
The Republican incumbents in Mini-Cassia — House Speaker Scott Bedke, Sen. Kelly Anthon, who was appointed last year, and Rep. Fred Wood — are all unopposed. All three races in District 24, which mostly covers the city of Twin Falls, will be competitive in November — the victor of the Hartgen/Bello primary will face Democrat Cathy Talkington in the general election, and the other two Republican incumbents are also facing Democratic challengers.
Talkington, who ran against Hartgen in 2014, said in a news release announcing her candidacy that improving education in Idaho and protecting public lands would be among her priorities. She also said she supports the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency, and that she backs local control, which has become an issue for Democrats in a year when the GOP Legislature is passing preemption bills such as the ones blocking local minimum wage hikes or regulation of plastic bags or food containers.
“We knocked on 9,000 doors, listening to residents," Talkington said, referring to her 2014 campaign. "Many today remain convinced Boise is a hunting-ground for special interests, offering campaign donations while demanding favors against taxpayer’s best interests.”
A Democrat and a Republican have also filed to run for each of the seats in District 26, which covers Blaine, Gooding, Camas and Lincoln counties. In Nielsen's District 23, which includes part of rural western Twin Falls County, Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, is unopposed, but there are multiple candidates for the House seats. Nielsen will face Megan Blanksma and Justin Freeman in the primary, and the victor will face Libertarian Christopher Jenkins and independent Bill Chisholm, a Buhl resident who has run for various offices in the past including for Brackett's seat, in the general election. Incumbent Rich Wills and challenger Christy Zito are facing off in the GOP primary for the district's other House seat, and the winner faces Democrat Mary Ann Richards in the November general.
As for the Supreme Court seat Jim Jones is vacating, the six candidates are Nampa Sen. Curt McKenzie, 2014 attorney general candidate Christ Troupis, Rupert lawyer Robyn Brody, William Breck Seingier Jr. and Clive Strong, of Boise, and Sergio Gutierrez of Nampa.