It will be interesting to see what state government will look like at this time next year, with a new governor taking office along with a new lieutenant governor.
They either will work as a team, as we have seen with Gov. Butch Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little, or the lieutenant governor will be a non-factor on the executive level – depending on the results of this year’s elections. We could have a governor who wants to seriously shake up state government, which is what Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist and Congressman Raul Labrador are promoting. Or voters can pick Little, who would bring about more subtle changes.
But battles in this election cycle goes well beyond the governor’s branch. None of the gubernatorial candidates can accomplish what they want without a cooperative Legislature. And that won’t be a given, even though Republicans are likely to maintain sizeable majorities in the House and Senate.
Enough with the talk about Idaho being a one-party state. Within the GOP, there are two parties – traditional Republicans (often referred to as RINOs) and the new wave of conservative Republicans, who call themselves “liberty” candidates/legislators (as if no one else outside their circle believes in “liberty” or “freedom”).
There are a number of races throughout the state pitting those groups against one another. The “liberty” group claims to have 40 candidates running for legislative seats, which could have a big impact on legislative leadership positions – especially in the House.
One race to watch is in District 1. Rep. Heather Scott, one of the leaders of the liberty movement, is challenged by Mike Boeck, who is making his first run at a political office but is no stranger to politics. He has worked on campaigns over the years for former Gov. Phil Batt and Sen. Larry Craig, and was Sen. Shawn Keough’s first campaign manager 22 years ago. Not surprisingly, she’s supporting Boeck.
“I believe Mike represents the broad diversity of Republicans in the district and reflects the traditional values of the citizens of our area,” Keough said. “Mike is a fourth generation Bonner County resident, spent his career in the private sector in natural resources, raised his family here and is a common sense, fiscal and socially responsible conservative. Mike’s level-headed, solution-oriented approach to issues is needed to properly represent our area and I wholeheartedly support him.”
District 1 is a strange one, where Keough and Scott – who are polar opposites in substance and style – can win elections in the same year. Boeck is more in the line of former longtime Republican Reps. Eric Anderson and George Eskridge. Scott is interested in gaining power for the liberty movement.
Boeck talks about traditional issues, such as transportation, education, jobs and natural resources – which he terms as “things that matter.” Scott’s focus is on downsizing government, trimming budgets and lowering taxes – and there are a lot of folks in her district who agree with that cause. In her latest newsletter, she celebrated the defeat of Gov. Butch Otter’s initiatives, while complaining about the more liberal Senate holding up bills promoted by liberty legislators.
Scott declined to talk to me about this race because she wanted no part in glorifying her opponent’s campaign. Boeck talks about the race, but doesn’t go overboard with his criticisms. He says voters are well aware of the differences between the candidates.
“I’m not really running against her,” he says.
“As the governor has said, it’s not enough to say ‘no,’ because that does not move us in the right direction,” Boeck said. “I’ve never heard her, or anyone in her group, really articulate what it is they expect. The folks who support her are terribly intimidating – they get in your face. But I’m not going to put up with that. In the Legislature, you’ve got to reach the hearts and minds of a lot of people to get anything done.”
Boeck, who serves on the Federal Forest Products Commission, says his purpose for running is to offer “a choice” for voters.
But the ramifications go well beyond this North Idaho legislative district. The race will provide an early indication whether the liberty movement promoted by Scott continues to gain momentum, or begins to fade.