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Analysis: Idaho legislature grows more conservative, GOP retains supermajority

The Idaho State Capitol showing the American flag flying in the wind.
Roam Yocham
Boise State Public Radio

Note: We have updated this story to reflect election result changes that were based on incorrect unofficial results shared by the Idaho Secretary of State’s office from Jerome County. Read more here.

Republicans maintained their sheer dominance in the Idaho legislature following Tuesday’s general election, holding an 82% supermajority across both chambers, according to unofficial results.

While the total number of seats held by the GOP and Democrats changed only slightly, the ideological makeup shifted further towards the right – especially in the state Senate.

Far-right politicians, like Cindy Carlson, current Rep. Tammy Nichols (R-Middleton), Scott Herndon, Brian Lenney and Glenneda Zuiderveld all either unseated, or successfully beat out more moderate candidates in open Senate races during May’s primary.

Nineteen seats – either open or held by traditional Republicans – turned more conservative after the primary.

Over the past several years, the Idaho Senate has typically been a moderating force on the much more conservative House.

Earlier this year, the chamber refused to consider bills passed by House Republicans that would’ve criminalized librarians for lending “harmful” materials to minors and outlawed gender-affirming care for transgender youths.

Such a sea change to the right could pave the way for those, or similar bills, to get to Gov. Brad Little’s desk for consideration, along with reshaping the state’s spending priorities.

It could also affect the makeup of caucus leadership. Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise), Majority Leader Kelly Anthon (R-Burley), Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee (R-Fruitland) and Caucus Chair Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) may face more intense challenges during next month’s organizational session.

Democrats lost one House race, according to unofficial results, making their total 18 legislative seats for the next two years.

Sen. David Nelson (D-Moscow) lost a rematch with former Sen. Dan Foreman (R-Viola) in the recently redrawn District 6, which added more rural and conservative voters in Nez Perce and Lewis counties with Latah County.

Despite the loss, Democrats narrowly picked up a Senate seat in west Boise, with Rick Just beating current Rep. Codi Galloway (R-Boise) by about 300 votes.

The party held on to two of its seats in District 26, which includes Blaine, Jerome and Lincoln counties, as well as its two seats in Pocatello’s District 29.

Early voting numbers from Jerome County weren't added to totals displayed on the Idaho Secretary of State's website, initially indicating Democrat Karma Metzler Fitzgerald had won. Updates made Thursday morning now show Republican Jack Nelsen winning by 83 votes, but the results have not been officially certified.

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, which drafts the state’s budget each year before being considered by each chamber, will see at least 12 new members out of 20 positions.

House Republican leadership will also see a reshuffling. Current Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) will be sworn in as lieutenant governor come January.

The fundamental functioning of the legislature will also change.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment giving Idaho lawmakers the power to call themselves back into session – previously something only the governor could do.

They will only be able to do so if 60% of House and Senate lawmakers agree on an issue in writing to legislative leaders.

Supporters argued it’s a necessary change to put the legislature on more equal footing with a governor during an emergency, while opponents criticized it for potentially moving Idaho's current part-time session toward one that's full-time.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!