Chuck MalloyI heard it countless times when I was growing up in North Idaho, and the sentiment for some people is as strong today. The key for better statehood is for North Idaho to separate from those hardheads in the south and form its own state. 

Hey, it worked in West Virginia, didn’t it?

If North Idaho had its own state, they might have legalized gambling – just as Vernon K. Smith talked about when he ran for governor in 1962. They might even have legalized prostitution in Wallace, which back in the day was the most prosperous industry in the Silver Valley, next to mining.

None of those things happened, thank goodness. But there was no harm in dreaming big.

Folks in Boise might be doing the same kind of wishful thinking for different reasons. Idaho is the reddest of the red states on the electoral map, but the city of Boise has turned sky blue in recent years. People in Boise tend to vote for the most liberal candidates in elections, only to be squashed by rural conservatives. Boise, a bustling city, is a different world from places like Midvale, Cottonwood and my old hometown of Osburn. In the smaller towns, you’ll never hear talk about light rail or downtown trollies.

Three legislative districts in Boise (16, 17 and 18), which were Republican strongholds not too many years ago, are now Democratic cornerstones. Mayor Dave Beiter, a former Democrat legislator, and knocking easily wins re-elections. Sen. Fred Martin is the only Idaho senator with a Boise address. Reps. Lynn Luker and Patrick McDonald are the only Republican House members from Boise.

“If you go back 30 years ago, there were only three Democrats sitting in the Legislature from Boise,” Martin said. “Twenty years ago, there were six or seven. Now there are 12 (counting District 19).” Now Democrats are making a strong bid to take over District 15.

Luker says the demographics mirror national trends.

“A 2014 Pew Research study confirms what many suspected, and that is those of more liberal persuasion tend to live in urban, walkable communities, while those of a more conservative mind prefer the space found in rural and small-town life. Suburbia falls in the middle with an overlap of both, but truly loved by a majority of neither. District 15 has also changed some, but I believe maintains its appeal to conservatives.”

This year, Democrats are fielding three energetic candidates who are raising money, wearing out hands knocking on doors in an effort to change the District 15 landscape.They’re talking about spending more on education, Medicaid expansion, raising the minimum wage and keeping lands under federal control. The state Republican Party, not taking anything for granted, has responded by opening a field office in District 15 to promote the incumbents. 

The strongest Democratic candidate appears to be Steve Berch, who two years ago grabbed 48 percent of the vote against Luker – the most conservative GOP candidate. Berch is perceived, even by Republicans, as one of the hardest working candidates in the field.

Berch’s never-ending door-knocking campaign is similar to the approach employed by state tax commissioner, and former Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk in nearby District 17. Werk’s tireless campaigning was a big factor in changing the entire makeup of  District 17. His efforts helped create a safe seat for Rep. Sue Chew, who rarely proposes or debates bills, but easily wins elections.

Berch’s fellow Democrats running in District 15 are not“token” candidates by any means. Jake Ellis, a retired Boise firefighter, and Laura Metzler have been doing the door knocking along with Berch. Ellis, who has Beiter’s backing, is running against McDonald, a retired state policeman who has made a favorable impression with his common-sense approach. Metzler, who worked on Berch’s campaign four years ago, is running against Martin, which is a difficult task – but not an impossible one in her view.

As Berch sees it, “Democrats are more aligned with the people in Boise than Republicans.” That may be true from an overall perspective.

“Obviously, nothing should be over-simplified,” says Luker. “All voters are significant and any given individual voter may not follow the pattern, so getting out the vote efforts are important.”

Up to now, Republicans have the edge in getting their District 15 supporters to the polls.

Chuck Malloy is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He is a native Idahoan, a graduate of the University of Idaho and long-time political reporter and editorial writer. He is a former political editor of the Post Register of Idaho Falls and a former editorial writer for the Idaho Statesman. He may be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.