2006 was not a great year for some Boise Republicans.
For the first time in history, Boise's District 16 elected all Democrats to the state Legislature. In a similar upset, District 18 voters unseated long-term Republicans and also sent three Democrats to the Capitol. This year, the spotlight has returned to these races. Sixteen has three open seats while in 18, the Democratic incumbents are standing their ground. The Republicans say they've got strong candidates and the presidential election will help mobilize their base.
Could this be the year they recapture their former Boise territory?
Politically and demographically mixed, District 16 zigzags from Cole and Five Mile roads in the west to 36th Street in the east, and from Hill Road in the north to The Connector in the south.
Gary Moncrief, a professor of political science at Boise State, said 16 is interesting this year because all of its seats are open.
"The name brands are gone," he said, referring to two well-known, retiring legislators.
Democrat David Langhorst, the retiring state senator from District 16, is campaigning for Ada County commissioner against Republican Rick Yzaguirre. Rep. Margaret Henbest, known for her work on the Health and Welfare Committee, is not seeking a seventh term.
Rep. Les Bock, an attorney who chose to leave his seat and campaign instead for state Senate, is the one remaining "name" in the district. Democrats Grant Burgoyne and Elfreda Higgins are running against Republicans Joan Cloonan and Elizabeth Allan Hodge, respectively, for the House seats.
"I think the atmosphere is a bit better suited for my skill set," Bock said of his decision. "It's a more deliberative body. It doesn't operate quite as much at the extremes as the House tends to."
Bock said his first legislative session was tough in terms of learning the ropes while being in a minority party. The second, he said, was much more fruitful, and cites legislation he helped pass to extend workers' compensation benefits to volunteer firefighters.
"The No. 1 lesson that I learned is the importance of working with everybody and getting something constructed out of the process," he said.
Bock is running against Christ Troupis, another attorney who has made a name for himself within the Republican Party by working on bills such as the abortion coercion bill, which was signed into law earlier this year.
Troupis, who has never run for office, said that working on this and other bills has given him the background he needs and the rapport with legislators to be a good representative.
"In the process, I realized that there's an awful lot of good that can be done if people just try to make common-sense decisions," he said. "You have to compromise on some things. You don't have to compromise on your values, but you can listen to different viewpoints and reach a compromise that moves things forward."
If elected, Troupis says his main concern would be the economy.
"I would oppose any kind of tax increase whatever, of any kind, if they're direct or indirect. That means no new registration fees, no new gas taxes, no fees or charges ... for the next year or two," he said.
Bock, too, said he's concerned about the economy, but says he hears most often from his constituents about public transit and transportation issues. He said he has a more moderate approach to the Legislature and that he is a better representative for District 16 than Troupis, someone Bock calls "ultra-conservative."
"He's a good person, but he has some views, I think, that he holds very powerfully, that are influenced by his religious positions," Bock said. "I don't think someone who is pretty much an extremist is going to win this race."
Troupis doesn't agree he's that conservative, saying he thinks Bock is "very liberal." Troupis said he would be able to accomplish more in a Republican-dominated House.
"Now my opponent, he gets a free ride ... All he'll have to say is, you know, I only represent the minority, so all I really can do is complain, and it's their fault for not doing this or that or the other," he said.
Moncrief thinks it will be hard to accomplish much this session anyway due to the shrinking budget.
Rep. Phylis King agrees. "They're going to use that excuse for everything," she said. "If it costs anything, it's going to be vetoed."
King, a Democrat, is running in District 18 against Republican Becky Young and Libertarian James Oyler. Criticized as having a tax-first mentality, King said she opposes new taxes.
"What I want to do is change the way we spend," she said. She said she'd place health care, early childhood education and energy above roads and bridges on her list of priorities.
Young said she's running because she doesn't feel the current legislators like King are getting enough done for District 18. The other two races are being closely watched as well. Incumbent Kate Kelly is running against former legislator Dean Sorensen for District 18's senate seat, and freshman Democratic Rep. Brandon Durst is campaigning against a former five-term Republican legislator, Julie Ellsworth.
"Raising taxes and not supporting the business community out here is something that we've been experiencing," Young said. "What we don't have is people actually down there fighting for us, fighting for the middle-class families."
Young said that if elected, she will do what she can to support the business community, citing Micron as a major example because, she said, "thousands of my neighbors work for Micron." Micron has endorsed Young's campaign.
King said Young is a lot more conservative than she lets on and that she isn't the best representation of District 18. Young has stated in two different voters' guides that she would support permitting or requiring public schools to "teach the science on both sides of the debate over the evolutionary theory," for example. Both Young and Troupis have said they would oppose adding "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" to the Idaho Human Rights Amendment, one of Bock's key goals.
Moncrief said that if Democrats hold the line, this election could reflect changing attitudes in the area.
"This election is going to be a really good test of how far [the Democrats] have come in Idaho," he said.