by Carissa Wolf
Think of District 18 as a mini Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida. It swings, it flip-flops and in past elections, mere votes defined its partisanship.
“We’re not Republican and we’re not Democratic. We really are 50/50. It is a swing district,” said Democrat Rep. Phylis King. incumbent House B candidate.
In November 2010, just 103 of votes ousted Democratic Sen. Branden Durst from district representation, and a mere nine votes turned the House A seat over to a Republican.
The narrow loss had some Democratic Bench dwellers lobbying house-hunting progressives to plant roots in the Boise gateway district that hugs the Rim and sprawls south to encompass the newly annexed prison population that can’t vote Republican or Democrat, but adds to the district’s population count. Every vote matters in this district. And in past elections, a few new households could have easily determined representation.
While pundits calculated the political influence of the nonvoting prisoners that joined District 18 this election season (at least they’re not voting Republican, Democrats said, or Democratic, Republicans calculated), candidates are looking to more traditional strategies to lock in votes. That has King canvasing the district, knocking on door after door and highlighting her nonpartisan positions.
“I’m really a moderate. And this is a moderate district,” she said.
King said she doesn’t vote along political lines, but listens and learns before making decisions and is always willing to open her mind to new ideas.
“People call me and say, ‘What do we do about this?’ I may not have all the answers, but I learn a lot finding the answers,” she said.
A biologist, photographer and small business owner, King said that cuts to education in Idaho went way too far, and that she would work to improve kindergarten through university education and boost job growth. Her challenger, Republican Brad Bolicek, said he’ll also back education, through teacher pay increases and enhanced classroom technology.
Bolicek stands as the unabashed conservative in the race. His Facebook likes of Fox News and Newt Gingrich, endorsements from Idaho Chooses Life and a conservative lineup, including Meridian Sen. Russ Fulcher, offer some insight into how the Timberline High School swim coach, substitute teacher and former business owner might vote if elected, but he vows to practice nonpartisan politics.
“I am consistent with my message and I am committed to work with all parties,” Bolicek said.
Bolicek’s platform rests on job growth, lower taxes and less government intrusion, but his campaign literature remains mum on some of the more controversial issues of this past legislative session, including Boise Sen. Chuck Winder’s ultrasound bill and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s education reforms.
King, who didn’t back any of those measures, sees those issues as defining decision makers in this election.
“I do think it’s going to influence some pro-choice folks,” King said of the ultrasound bill that drew fire from Democrats and Republicans alike, and by some estimates, may sway some District 18 swing voters.
Bolicek said the swinging nature of his district hasn’t driven his campaign style, nor will that influence his political decisions—he said his votes will be based on reason rather than politics.
“My decisions are based upon careful research and deliberation with the best interests of District 18 and Idaho in mind,” he said.
Janie Ward-Engelking, King’s House Seat A Democratic counterpart, is an Idaho native and 33-year classroom teacher. She echoed a commitment to education and vowed to restore accountability in the legislature.
“The imbalance in our state legislature has created an environment where the majority party has routinely ignored what might be called ethical lapses on the part of public officials. In recent years, many of our elected officials have often represented only a narrow set of interests while ignoring their constituents,” Ward-Engelking noted.
Ward-Engelking’s opponent, incumbent Republican Rep. Julie Ellsworth, could not be reached for comment but backed parts of the so-called “Luna Laws” and voted in favor of restricting Occupy protests and insurance coverage of contraception.