Idaho’s conservative Republican rulers, who have governed the Gem State for twenty-eight years, turned back a far-right insurgency on Tuesday. The state’s primary election took the form of two rival slates in a one-party state.
Incumbent Republican Governor Brad Little defeated a challenge from Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin by a twenty-point margin. McGeachin managed to carry only four counties in the Idaho Panhandle, areas that have become a hotbed for white nationalists and other anti-government extremists.
Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke bested Representative Priscilla Giddings in the contest for the Republicans’ lieutenant governor nomination.
Giddings is one of more than twenty state legislators associated with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an insurgent group that has gained strength as ex-President Trump has gained dominance in the national Republican Party.
Meanwhile, twelve-term U.S. Representative Mike Simpson turned back a challenge from Bryan Smith, a vice chairman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
Simpson is a conservative, but has on occasion broken from the party line.
He voted in the House for an independent bipartisan commission to probe the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
(Senate Republicans killed the House-passed proposal.)
He championed creation of the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness Area and has proposed a plan to breach four salmon-destroying dams on the lower Snake River.
Idaho used to be a competitive state.
A Democrat, Cecil Andrus, was elected governor in 1970, 1974, 1986 and 1990, taking four years off to serve as U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter. Senator Frank Church served from 1956 to 1980, and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976.
The Democrats did good deeds.
Andrus championed cleanup of the Snake River, even enlisting potato king J.R. Simplot in the effort. He held on as Interior Secretary until the last hours of the Carter Administration in order to create a Birds of Prey Sanctuary along the river. Andrus and Republican Senator Jim McClure collaborated on creation of the Hells Canyon and Sawtooth National Recreation Areas.
Church was an early critic of Vietnam War escalation, evoking a famous demonstration of Lyndon Johnson’s temper at Ice Harbor Dam dedication ceremonies. He headed the Senate panel in the mid-1970s that investigated excesses of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is the namesake of the 1.8 million acre Frank Church River-of-no-Return Wilderness along the Salmon River.
Well, that was then.
The state’s present-day rulers have kept the state minimum wage at $7.25 an hour. Public social investment is at one of the lowest levels in the nation. The Legislature recently passed, and Governor Little signed, anti-abortion legislation modeled after the Texas statute now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yet, that has not been enough for the state’s far right. “Anti-regulation, anti-public schools, anti-science, Idaho is the national GOP on steroids,” said Marc Johnson, an Idaho political commentator who was once Andrus’ chief of staff.
Competition is badly needed. Although posing as a party of family values, Idaho’s Republicans are no strangers to scandal.
U.S. Senator Larry Craig did not seek reelection after an indecency arrest in a bathroom stall at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. A tipsy Senator Steve Symms once stumbled through a Senate floor speech honoring National Secretaries Day. (Both Symms and Craig later became D.C. lobbyists.)
Senator Mike Crapo, up for reelection this year, has withstood embarrassment of a DUI arrest. Future Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter endured a similar arrest, trying to blame tight fitting new cowboy boots for his errant driving.
In her challenge to Little, Lieutenant Governor McGeachin proposed using militia groups to bolster ranks of local law enforcement.
She demanded that Little call a special session of the Legislature to remove rape and incest exceptions from the new abortion law.
When Little was out of state at a Republican Governors Association conference, McGeachin issued an executive order forbidding any local government entity from enacting a mask requirement. Little swiftly countermanded the order and called it an “irresponsible, self-serving publicity stunt.”
The far right scored one significant Republican primary victory on Tuesday.
Ex-Representative Raúl Labrador, a libertarian and Idaho Freedom Foundation ally, upset longtime state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Wasden drew fire when he refused to sign Idaho onto a 2020 lawsuit by Texas seeking to throw out electoral votes from four states narrowly carried by Biden.
As in most states, the Idaho Attorney General’s office is considered a path to the governorship. Labrador’s win has unsettling ramifications for 2026 and beyond.