By Zach Hagadone
It was generally agreed by Idaho politicians and politics watchers alike that the May 17 primary election would be a game-changer for the Statehouse in Boise. It did not disappoint.
Aside from the big-name races, including for governor and lieutenant governor (for more on those, see Page 7), the hottest contest by far for residents of Idaho Legislative District 1 was between two-term incumbent Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, and challenger Scott Herndon.
Herndon ran against Woodward for the seat in 2018 but came in third in the three-way primary. This time around, he came to the race with a lot of money fueling a campaign unprecedented locally for its aggressiveness, both in flyers mailed to residents’ homes and in other print and digital media. In an email to the Reader in March, Herndon wrote, “Right now I think it is the leading fundraising campaign in a Republican race for any state legislative seat.”
Those efforts — despite riling many in the district for their frequency and intensity — seemed to have paid off, as Herndon won with 56.17%, or 7,771 votes, to Woodward’s 43.83%, or 6,064.
Herndon has for years been a vocal activist for a number of conservative causes, notably Abortion Abolition and gun rights — the latter spurring a pair of lawsuits against the city of Sandpoint initiated in 2019 challenging the Festival at Sandpoint’s no-weapon’s policy on publicly-owned War Memorial Field. Both were dismissed by a judge. Herndon also currently serves as chair of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee.
In his campaign, Herndon focused on issues such as “critical race theory” in schools, the participation of transgender students in school sports and the allegation that Woodward voted for legislation “in favor of drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants,” as one of many of his flyers put it. He also criticized the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response as “tyranny,” routinely portraying Woodward on his flyers with a protective mask photoshopped over his face.
While Woodward’s campaign also made use of election flyers, they were frequently geared toward debunking Herndon’s claims and emphasizing his work on behalf of Idahoans in the areas of tax reform and funding for transportation and education — all related to the Education, Joint Finance-Appropriations and Transportation committees, on which he served.
Asked for a comment on the result of the District 1 Senate Republican primary, Herndon shared a statement from his campaign that began: “Scott Herndon shocked the Idaho political establishment last night by defeating two-term incumbent Senator Jim Woodward in Idaho’s 1st senate seat,” going on to state that, “Herndon’s campaign ran a data-driven operation, drawing a stark contrast between his conservative political views and Woodward’s voting record.”
Of his primary win, Herndon stated: “First thing’s first: All the glory belongs to God. I am humbled to have been chosen by the people of North Idaho to represent them. I want to thank Jim Woodward for his service to Idaho. While I had serious disagreements with him on policy and his voting record, I never doubted his commitment to public service.”
Herndon will be unopposed in the November general election.
Woodward declined to comment on the election results.
The other high-profile race in Legislative District 1 — which covers most of Bonner County and all of Boundary County — was for the House A seat left vacant after redistricting put Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, in Legislative District 2. That contest drew five candidates for the Republican primary and only one — Steve Johnson — on the Democratic side.
In that five-way race, Mark Sauter came out ahead with 38.25%, or 4,816 votes. His next closest opponent, Spencer Hutchings, came close with 4,093 votes, or 32.51%.
Though with a crowded field, the House 2A race was less tense than for the District 1 Senate seat. Sauter’s campaign was generally identified as being in sync with Woodward’s, including joint appearances on campaign flyers touting their endorsements by the Fraternal Order of Police and Professional Fire Fighters of Idaho.
Sauter’s top issues included job growth, support for first responders, border security and tax reform. Sauter also emphasized his priority to support quality education in the state that helps lead students to well-paying jobs.
“I humbly thank my supporters, endorsements and most of all voters of District 1,” Sauter told the Reader, adding, “It really is a pretty interesting experience [running for office]. It’s very humbling.”
Hutchings did not respond to a request for comment, nor did fellow House 1A Republican candidate Cynthia Weiss.
Travis Thompson, who came in third with 15.32% of the vote, told the Reader in a statement: “Congratulations to Mark Sauter for his election to Idaho House Seat 1A. I appreciate all of the community support received through our grassroots campaign. I will continue to support and enhance the shared conservative values expressed through this campaign to add value to this place we call home.”
Adam Rorick, who came in fifth in the race with 5.95% of the vote, wrote in a statement May 18: “I am humbled and honored having received the support of voters who cast a ballot for me … To my supporters, ‘Thank you.’ Unfortunately, we did not receive enough votes to be the nominee of the Republican Party. This primary race was hard fought. I respect and appreciate the views and efforts of my Republican opponents. Congratulations to the nominee of our party.”
Rorick added that he “will continue to be involved in the conservative movement here in our North Idaho home,” and announced plans to launch a weekly podcast focused on conservative viewpoints in the area.
In the House 1B contest, four-term incumbent Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, held onto his seat against challenger Todd Engel by the slimmest margin of any of the District 1 races: 52.28% of voters, or 7049, went for Dixon while 47.72%, or 6,435, chose Engel.
That breakdown became as close as it can get when looking at county totals. Dixon’s victory was solidly based in Bonner County, where he received 5,472 votes to Engel’s 4,859, or 52.97% to 47.03%. However, in Boundary County the spread was 50.02% for Dixon and 49.98% for Engel. That represented a difference of exactly one vote: 1,577 to 1,576.
Dixon has made his legislative career on issues of tax reform; parental rights, including changes to the Child Protective Services system; “eradicating the curse of abortion,” as his campaign website puts it; and in past sessions fronting efforts to raise the requirements for bringing citizens’ initiatives to the ballot.
Engel is most well known for his participation in the 2014 armed standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., for which he was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. The court overturned that sentence and threw out the conviction after more than four years, ruling that his case and that of more than a dozen others related to the standoff had been mishandled by the government. According to press reports, in September 2021 Engel filed a $100 million civil rights lawsuit against the federal government.
Neither Dixon nor Engel responded to a request for comment on the results of the Republican primary. Dixon will advance unopposed to the November general election.
All results are preliminary until canvassed and certified.
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