IDAHO — The candidate filing period is now over, giving voters an idea of who they’ll see on their ballot for the May primary. The Republican primary is the big focus for many, with nearly 400,040 registered Republican voters as of 2020, but the Democratic candidates running—or not running for office this year—could bring some changes.
Right now there are 19 democrats in the Idaho Legislature; 12 in the House and seven in the Senate, but five of these lawmakers—including members of democratic leadership—are not running for re-election, paving the way for someone younger, or someone from the other party to take their place.
Democratic Senator Grant Burgoyne of Boise and Representative Sally Toone of Gooding are two of the five Democratic legislators who aren’t running for re-election.
At the end of his term, Burgoyne will have spent 14 years in the Idaho Legislature.
“There are very few legislative careers that are too short. I’ve seen quite a number that are too long,” he said.
He also said redistricting is a time to take stock.
“The legislature will change quite a bit and now is a good time to make these changes,” Burgoyne said.
Redistricting factored into Toone’s decision too, but in a bigger way. The lines for district 26 shifted because of redistricting.
On the old map, District 26 included Camas, Blaine, Lincoln and Gooding counties. Now, District 26 still includes Blaine and Lincoln counties, but it also includes Jerome County and a small part of Twin Falls County.
“As a democrat, you have to look at the numbers and the voting records of the past,” Toone said.
She also said there just aren’t enough Democratic voters in the new makeup of her district.
This isn’t the only reason for her retirement, which is coming after six years in the Legislature.
“Politics is not a career, it’s a service,” Toone said. “The next generation needs to learn the ropes and add their voice.”
This is something that could happen in Toone’s district.
“We have two younger candidates running for District 26 and I’m going to work really hard to get them elected,” she said.
While Toone believes people need to meet in a middle ground—something she calls a purple perspective—she’s not sure the new District 26 is there yet.
“I think rural Idaho needs to understand there are choices. It doesn’t have to be just one way,” she said. “It’s gonna take a few years to build that thought process and those conversations in rural Twin Falls county because they’ve never had it.”
While neither of these lawmakers cited this as a reason for leaving office, they both said they’ve noticed a change in the political climate during their time in office.
They said things are more partisan and the conversations less civil than when they first came into office.
Political scientists said there are different types of polarization. One that has become concerning is polarization involving distrust of the political opposition, resulting in more aggression.
“If we’re unable to actually interact in a civil way with the opposing side, there are concerns on what that means long term for having a healthy democracy," Jaclyn Kettler, a political scientist at BSU said.
Burgoyne said he thinks younger generations might do a better job of solving this growing polarization, which is one reason he said it’s time for the Baby Boomers to make way for the next generation in the Legislature.
He also said there’s always concern about how Democrats are going to do in an election.
“We’re in a Republican state, we know that the Legislature will be majority Republican for probably a fairly long time into the future, regardless of what other things may change,” he said.
He said the minority party plays an important role, regardless of how many lawmakers belong to it.
“The legislation that’s brought to the legislature, somebody needs to be there to challenge it, poke at it, prod it, ask the tough questions. And if it’s all legislation coming from one side, those questions don’t get asked,” Burgoyne said.
There’s not much competition in the Democratic Primary, though.
There are 14 districts where no Democrat is running for a seat in the State Legislature. There are only two districts where more than one Democrat is running for the same seat in the State Legislature.
Idaho is definitely a red state, but there are always a handful of Democratic members of the Legislature like there are now.
Kettler said different situations, like a competitive district, can result in more than one Democratic candidate running, but what we’re seeing this year isn’t unusual.
“it can be hard to recruit candidates to run, especially in districts that you do not believe is going to be friendly to your party,” Kettler said.
She said this year’s election will be interesting because of the recent redistricting.
We’ll continue to follow all of the local races and keep you up to date with what you need to know ahead of the primary.