Congratulations to the winners and condolences to the losers. Public service is a critical component of our democratic society, and the willingness to put one’s name on the ballot is something to be celebrated, regardless of the outcome.
Across Idaho, the votes have been counted, and the results are in. While ICL’s tax status precludes us from endorsing candidates in elections, we deal with the results everyday, so here’s our take on what these election results mean for our conservation work.
While the turbulent winds of the Presidential Election have eased, President Trump, who received 64% of the vote in Idaho, has not conceded to President-elect Biden even though it appears there are few options to challenge the results. ICL believes that it is critically important for all legal votes to be counted, and we must respect and honor America’s tradition of democracy and our tradition of a peaceful transition of power.
So, what happened?
In Congress, Idaho retained its incumbents, including Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher, along with Senator Jim Risch. All were re-elected with between 63-68% of the vote.
At the state level, out of 105 legislators, there will be 18 new faces, along with four members returning to the Idaho House after a hiatus. In addition, three House members relinquished their seats to join the Senate.
The Idaho House and Senate are preparing to convene for their annual session on January 11, 2021, and all indications are they will meet regardless of the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to surge across the state.
Democrats in Idaho saw their numbers decline by two as Republicans Dustin Manwaring and Codi Galloway unseated Democratic House members Chris Abernathy of Pocatello and Jake Ellis of Boise. That means that Democrats now control 12 seats, compared to the 58, or super-majority, held by Republicans.
Two former members of the Idaho House also unseated more moderate candidates during the Republican primary in May. With their wins in the general election, Ron Nate of Rexburg and Karey Hanks of St. Anthony will return to the statehouse come January. Another former House member on the Democratic side, James Ruchti of Pocatello, replaces 10-term Representative Elaine Smith.
The House results appear to indicate a rightward shift, which could lead to contested leadership elections for Speaker Scott Bedke and his team. (On November 16, Rep. Wendy Horman of Idaho Falls announced her intention to challenge Rep. Bedke for the Speakership, and on Nov. 18 Rep. Judy Boyle announced a challenge to House Majority Leader Mike Moyle.). Separately, the retirement of Rep. Smith leaves open the House Minority Caucus Chair position.
In the Idaho Senate, the split between the two parties will remain the same, with Republicans holding 28 seats compared to 7 held by Democrats. The retirement of Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill of Idaho Falls kicks off a shift in Senate leadership, with current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder of Boise expected to move into the Senate’s top leadership position. As a result, we could see competition for Majority Leader, Asst. Majority Leader and Caucus Chair.
Minority Leader Senator Michelle Stennett of Ketchum lost her two deputies with the retirements of Senators Maryanne Jordan and Cherie Buckner-Webb, both of Boise, who served as Asst. Minority Leader and Caucus Chair. We’ll see how each of these leadership races turn out in December when the legislature meets for their organizational meetings.
So, what does it all mean?
On several issues, the Idaho Senate has provided a backstop to the Idaho House’s more aggressive anti-environmental proposals. Things like the House’s attempts to weaken pesticide oversight, eliminate reference to climate change in K-12 Science Standards, and seize and control public lands have sailed through the House only to be stymied in the Senate. With minimal changeover in the Senate, we expect more of the same.
At the national level, the not-yet officially certified election of Joe Biden would present a stark contrast to President Trump’s environmental policies. From casting doubt on climate change to undermining environmental protections for clean water, endangered species and protected lands, President Trump oversaw a dramatic shift of policies, funding and priorities.
There is already talk among the prospective Biden Transition Team of reversing numerous rules, regulations and policies that weakened protections for America’s rivers and streams, limited public involvement on public land decisions, withdrew wildlife safeguards, and undermined policies to reduce fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change.
Regardless of when, whether, and how a Biden Administration could take action on environmental priorities, it’s more than likely that some within the Idaho Legislature will ramp up their anti-federal rhetoric. During the four years of the Trump Administration, criticism of federal agencies and policies was muted. With a Democrat prepared to move back into the White House, we expect a resurgence of this sentiment from some Idaho Legislators.
Almost 50 years ago, ICL was founded to be a voice for conservation in the Idaho Statehouse. We take seriously our role to give voice to the issues you care about, to monitor the legislature, and connect our members to their elected officials. Though the political pendulum may swing back and forth through the years, ICL continues to work to transcend party lines, and advocate for long-term solutions built upon partnerships, relationships and collaborative discussions, regardless of affiliation. We’ve come to realize that the most durable solutions are those that are crafted with all stakeholders at the table.
As we enter what is sure to be a unique Covid-limited session, we look forward to connecting you with your state representatives like never before. Whether it’s remote testimony at a committee, a Zoom meeting with your legislator, or a Legislative 101 session, ICL stands ready to meet the challenges ahead.
As always, we appreciate your ongoing support, and stay tuned as we prepare for the 2021 Legislative Session, only 60 days away!