Across the board in south-central Idaho, incumbent Republican lawmakers are facing primary challengers for the first time in several election cycles. The challengers all have similar liberty-minded platforms, but range widely in the seriousness of their campaigns.
For House members in District 23 and Senate members in Districts 23 and 24, we think the incumbents are the best options, save for one race: the District 23 House seat, which includes Elmore County, Owyhee County and a small sliver of western Twin Falls County.
Incumbent Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, upset incumbent Richard Willis in 2016. On May 15, we think her opponent, Oscar Evans, is ripe to pull off an upset of his own.
In District 24, representing Twin Falls, Sen. Lee Heider faces a primary challenger for the first time since winning the seat in 2010.
Heider had a turbulent year, capped off by directing lawmakers to meet him behind closed doors — an open meeting violation — where he berated them for asking for a hearing on a CBD oil bill. He was caught on tape by reporters essentially doing the bidding of the governor and prosecutors by shooting down the hearing. Since then, he’s cited CBD oil as a “gateway” to marijuana becoming legalized in the state, a move he staunchly opposes.
His candidate, Jay S. Waters III, has no political experience but comes to the election with a strong stance on the relationship between legislator and constituents. Waters has not been shy about his scant political background, but swears to listen to constituents on all issues, even ones with which he personally disagrees. That’s a stark contrast to Heider, who made clear that he thinks he and the governor know better than the people of Idaho on issues like CBD oil.
Heider, of course, did some good things that were overshadowed by his missteps last session, including a few moves that will likely increase the number of organ donors in Idaho.
At the end of the day, we don’t think Waters is ready to serve in the statehouse. But we do urge him to stay politically active. He is part of the young adult crowd that is not represented in the statehouse, and in a few years the time may be right. In the meantime we urge him to run for local offices and stay in the loop on political issues. And Heider should take this primary challenger as a wake-up call. He is quick to point out that he, too, listens to constituents. But we wonder if those are just the constituents who show up to similar club meetings and fundraisers that Heider does, or whether he is out listening to the blue collar workers of Twin Falls.
With the retirement of Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, the District 24 House seat is open — sort of. Hartgen’s wife, Linda Wright Hartgen is running for the seat, challenged by Rocky Ferrenburg.
Wright Hartgen’s experience gives her the slight edge over Ferrenburg. She filled in for her husband in the statehouse when he was ill, and while she slightly differs politically from Stephen Hartgen, she has had years to observe how the Boise process works. Ferrenburg’s politics are more libertarian than Wright Hartgen’s, so the latter likely aligns more closely with Magic Valley voters.
Ferrenburg has not been shy about discussing his past legal troubles, and he is a shining example of rehabilitation. He is remarkably eager and possesses a firm moral compass. He, like Waters, should stay involved in local politics. We need young, energetic politicians in south-central Idaho, and Ferrenburg fits that bill. Wright Hartgen edges him out as the best candidate in this election, but there is a lot for voters to like about Ferrenburg’s directness.
Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, supported the thinly-veiled anti-Sharia Law bill that died in the Senate last session and rejected in January the proposed legislation that would have required lawmakers to disclose some of their personal financial information. Upon rejecting the bill, she delivered this memorable line: “With most of the constituents in my district, if they want to know something they can ask.” That’s not how political transparency works.
And it’s not just that Zito is too far to the political right to actually get anything done in the statehouse. Her opponent, Oscar Evans, is a strong candidate. Evans said the legislature spends too much time focusing inward on what happens in the statehouse instead of considering what’s best for Idahoans, a claim that’s at least partially attributable to House Freedom Caucus members.
Evans wants to cut back on the state’s reliance on the federal government, but balances that common Republican talking point with an understanding that lawmakers must steer clear of rhetoric and hyperbole in doing so. Evans is a retired Lt. Col., and he possesses the assertiveness and level-headedness to enact meaningful legislation.
In the District 23 Senate seat, incumbent Sen. Bert Brackett is a better option than his opponent, Mark Rhatigan.
Rhatigan touts himself as “the real conservative candidate,” taking the same approach as many of the other liberty candidates: my opponent is not far enough to the right. He, like members of the House Freedom Caucus, will try to ride the anti-establishment wave into the statehouse without providing a better option.
Brackett, on the other hand, has unfinished business in the statehouse, including expanding broadband access in rural areas and getting Idaho’s infrastructure back on track. He should be re-elected to finish what he’s started.
Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, is a forward-thinking legislator, already warning that the Magic Valley must be ready when its growth inevitably slows. He sees the importance of bridging Idaho’s urban-rural divide, which grows larger by the day, and he hopes to make progress on transparency in health care by making pharmacy benefit managers register with the state.
Edwards is running on a familiar “drain the swamp” platform, and he cites Magic Valley’s freedom index score as “unacceptable.” While there may be swampy elements to Idaho’s state legislators, Patrick is not a swamp creature. He should be re-elected.