Open seats in Boise legislative districts 18 and 19 have inspired three highly competitive primary races, with five Republicans in 18 trying to win back a Democratic seat or two, and two Democrats in 19 trying to define the political character of Boise's urban center.
The retirement of Senate Democratic leader Kate Kelly left a big hole in District 18, which spans south and east Boise from Five Mile Road to Highway 21.
Dean Sorensen, a plastic surgeon and former Republican legislator who lost to Kelly in 2008 by 19 percentage points, said he only filed to run because of Kelly's retirement.
"I learned my lesson last time," Sorensen said. "Nobody had a reason to replace her."
Sorensen faces two other Republicans in the Tuesday, May 25, primary--Mitch Toryanski and Robert Lauritsen--in a district where 14 of the 16 precincts voted for President Barack Obama.
Toryanski, a deputy attorney general who has taken a leave of absence to run, said he thought that 18 had swung pretty far into the Democratic camp but that he was encountering many conservatives in the district.
"There's an opportunity," Toryanski said. "The window opens, the window closes and you have to be ready to step through."
Toryanski was assigned to the Legislature for three years as a deputy attorney general, answering legal questions and helping craft legislation. He said he's always been interested in policy making. If elected, Toryanski would have to resign from his state job.
Lauritsen is critical of Idaho Republican leaders, claiming Tea Party Boise membership and arguing that cuts to state agencies have not gone far enough.
"Even though Republicans pretty much still rule everything, there's a lot of Republicans that aren't thinking a lot. It's still old school," he said.
Lauritsen wants to see entire departments eliminated--including the state "building division"--and Health and Welfare benefits severely curtailed. He criticized Sorensen for letting weeds grow around his campaign signs.
The victor in the GOP primary will face current District 18 Rep. Branden Durst, a Democrat, who will run for Kelly's seat in November. Newcomer Janie Ward-Engelking is running for Durst's House seat, drawing out two Republican candidates. Julie Ellsworth, also a former legislator who was ousted in 2006 and lost to Durst by only two points two years ago, is making another run at the House. Gregory Ferch, a chiropractor, is challenging her in the GOP primary.
Ellsworth said District 18 is full of swing voters and that she will talk to anyone. She's critical of District 18 Democrats not being able to get bills heard and said that she knows how to get new ideas through the body, based on her decade as a legislator.
"That's the responsibility ... to bring those ideas forward so that they see fruition," she said.
Ellsworth has been planning her comeback for a year and a half, but Ferch said he telegraphed his intention to run as well, and Ellsworth filed at the last minute.
Ferch said he's running because he wants lower taxes, less spending and more personal responsibility in health care.
There was a third GOP primary in District 18, but Becky Young withdrew from the race, handing it to Trevor Grigg, a recent Boise State grad and Young Republican.
In District 19, a large district that covers Boise's North and East ends and downtown core, two Democrats are mounting a primary battle--one of a handful of Democratic primaries in the state.
Four Democrats filed for the race but Jim Philpott and Dallas Gudgell withdrew, though Gudgell's name will appear on the ballot.
That leaves Cherie Buckner-Webb, a well-known community activist and gospel singer who coaches executives on diversity issues and conflict resolution, and David Cadwell, a commercial developer who played basketball with Buckner-Webb's son at Boise High.
Cadwell said he thinks a primary in District 19--arguably the state's most liberal district--is healthy, since it's going to remain a Democratic seat anyway. But Cadwell added that he heard rumblings about the contest.
"People weren't real excited that I was running, that there was a primary," he said.
Buckner-Webb agreed that a primary was healthy for the district.
"Hopefully, we are continually raising the bar," she said.
Buckner-Webb worked for the former Boise Cascade and for Hewlett-Packard before starting her own executive coaching business.
Cadwell started his career at Albertsons corporate office and launched his commercial real estate firm in 2003. He has developed more than $15 million in commercial real estate in the Treasure Valley since then, including Majestic Marketplace West near the Majestic Cinemas in Meridian.
"One of the things I bring to the table ... I feel like I have a lot of relationships, doing what I do, with small- and medium-sized business owners," Cadwell said.
Both candidates say they got into the race because of the historic cuts to public education--Buckner-Webb has drawn support from the Idaho Education Association and Cadwell has school-aged children.
But Cadwell complained that he has not been asked much about the issues--no one asks about abortion, gay rights or guns--and that voters just want to know if he is a Democrat or a Republican.