Steve Johnson announces write-in campaign vs. Dist. 1 Senate GOP nominee Scott Herndon

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Once the Democratic contender for the Idaho House 1A seat being sought by Republican nominee Mark Sauter, Steve Johnson has dropped out of that race and announced his intention to run as a write-in for the Idaho Senate against Republican nominee Scott Herndon.

Steve Johnson.

Johnson, a retired educator, farmer, rancher, business owner and Sagle resident since 1957, kicked off his campaign Aug. 10 before a packed gathering at 113 Main St. (a.k.a. the former Truby’s building)  in downtown Sandpoint.

“I’m running because Scott Herndon does not represent the values of North Idaho. When I am elected, I will do real work for the real issues North Idahoans face every day,” he said.

Johnson will face high hurdles at the ballot box — first with a Democratic background running in deep-red District 1, and second as a write-in candidate, meaning voters will have to remember his name and what he’s running for when they cast their votes in November. None of his information will appear on the ballot or in official election guides. 

Herndon bested two-term incumbent Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, in the May primary, and he remains unopposed on the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election ballot. 

The Herndon-Woodward primary contest featured what was widely considered as an overtly aggressive campaign on Herndon’s part, which included flurries of fliers mailed to area residents fronting a raft of claims that Woodward was obliged to debunk as misleading or outright false.

Still, Herndon garnered 7,771 votes to Woodward’s 6,064, or 56.7% to 43.83% of the vote, respectively. In a statement to the Reader in May, Herndon said that his was likely “the leading fundraising campaign in a Republican race for any state legislative seat.” 

According to Herndon’s July 2022 finance report to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, the campaign had received more than $100,000 during the calendar year, while Woodward’s filing in July 2022 listed more than $127,000 in contributions during the same period. 

In a news release announcing his candidacy, Johnson’s write-in campaign referred to Herndon as an “extremist” and made note of his hiring of Nevada-based political consultancy firm McShane LLC during the primary, which his campaign paid nearly $67,000 for services including management, advertising, operations, printing, postage, surveys and polling between July 2021 and June 2022, according to campaign finance filings. 

McShane LLC has made headlines in recent years for its work with far-right wing Nevada gubernatorial candidate Michele Fiore and Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, as well as with the Nevada Republican Party to “check the validity” of 2020 election ballots in Las Vegas. 

According to media outlets in Nevada, as well as The Washington Post, McShane Vice President Woodrow Johnston sought to recruit members of the Proud Boys extremist group to participate in a 2020 election protest rally in Las Vegas, though the company stated that Johnston acted on his own and “sees the error of what he did.” He remains on the McShane website as vice president of the firm.

Herndon has also been a controversial figure in local politics, triggering the legal tussle over the weapons ban at publicly owned War Memorial Field during the weeks it is rented by the Festival at Sandpoint. Herndon and another local resident were turned away from the field when they attempted to enter with a firearm during the 2019 concert series. The incident prompted two lawsuits against the city of Sandpoint — which rents the field to the Festival — both of which were thrown out by a judge, but not before costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the parties involved, including Bonner County and the city of Sandpoint.

However, Herndon is best known for his “abortion abolition” activism, advocating for a total ban on and criminalization of abortion — including in cases where the procedure would save a mother’s life. As chairman of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee, Herndon made that hardline anti-abortion argument at the Idaho GOP’s state convention in Twin Falls in July, where the party voted on a 2-1 margin to reject “life of mother” language in its abortion platform, according to the Idaho Capital Sun.

“While Scott Herndon has made it clear that he intends to focus on his personal agenda, I’ll focus on the issues that matter to all of us: affordable property taxes, quality education for our children and grandchildren, and the preservation of our rural lifestyle,” Johnson stated. “As your state senator, those issues will be my top priorities.”

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