Idaho looks a little less country, more suburban

By John Miller

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 2:16 p.m. MDT

BOISE, Idaho — How will Idaho's legislative politics look after redistricting concluded this week? A little less country, a little more suburban, as the state's power base continues its shift to more populous areas from its agrarian roots.

The sprawling metropolis along U.S. Interstate 84 from Caldwell to Boise picked up three new legislative districts, while those vast open spaces in Idaho's sparsely populated interior, its southern desert and remote southeast shed clout because they either shed population or grew at a snail's pace.

Sorry, liberal Boise, this transition won't mirror neighboring Washington and Oregon, whose densely populated coastal plains have resulted in Democratic-leaning legislatures. Idaho's new landscape clearly indicates the drama inside the Capitol will increasingly be directed by Republican lawmakers from places like Kuna and Eagle, Meridian and Nampa.

"Generally, we think of the suburbs as less conservative than the rural areas," said Gary Moncrief, a Boise State University political science professor. "But I don't think that equation holds in Idaho. It has a pretty solidified Republican dimension."

Population changes require new maps every decade, to preserve one-person, one-vote principles that reflect Idaho's latest U.S. Census tally.

The 2001 redistricting effort was delayed by lawsuits, while this latest edition required two redistricting commissions to complete the work; the first bogged down in a partisan stalemate after 92 days.

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said Wednesday he's heard of no lawsuits brewing against the 2011 plans — so far. But he won't discount the possibility.

In all, 33 of 105 total state representatives and senators were "redistricted out" — either forced to face incumbents in 2012 or resign.

Seven Idaho House districts feature potential incumbent battles in 2012, with five in the Senate. Most victims are Republicans, simply because the Idaho Legislature is four-fifths GOP; even prominent lawmakers like House Speaker Lawerence Denney, Majority Leader Mike Moyle and Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts got lumped in.

On Thursday, four-term GOP Sen. Joyce Broadsword from Sagle announced she'll retire in 2012, rather than face Sandpoint Republican Sen. Shawn Keough.

No hard feelings, Broadsword said.

"I have huge respect for the redistricting committee," she said. "No matter who is working on it, it's a tough job."

Dolores Crow, a Republican, and Democrat Ron Beitelspacher, who led 2011's second three-Democrat, three-Republican redistricting panel, said both sides' commitment to ignore partisan politics and incumbency was key to the unanimous agreement after just three weeks.

"I don't have a clue where any of these legislators live," Beitelspacher said. "I have no clue what their addresses are."

Not everybody is buying that, however.

Lou Esposito, a Republican member of the first commission who was a fierce defender of GOP interests, contends the second panel's 6-0 vote shows Republican panelists should have held out for more.

"The Democrats were looking at where incumbents were, they got everything they wanted, and so they voted accordingly," said Esposito, a campaign consultant for U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.

Other Republicans were more forgiving, including state GOP executive director Jonathan Parker.

Parker doesn't think Democrats deserve equal representation on the redistricting panel because of their meager Legislature numbers. That's why the party is considering whether to ask lawmakers to initiate reforms next year. Still, Parker is ready to accept what the 2011 panel's decision.

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