Game Time 

Election season starts shaking up the Legislature

It's shaping up to be a tough election season for House Majority Leader Mike Moyle.

The Republican from Star is about to face some serious competition for his District 14 House seat from one of two popular candidates—either of whom has the ability to give the five-term legislator a run for his money.

The latest to enter the fray is Chuck Winder, former Ada County Highway District commissioner, who also ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Boise against Dave Bieter in 2003.

Winder confirmed that he is planning a run for District 14 but wouldn't say which seat he'll go after.

But his comments point to a run at Moyle rather than Rep. Raul Labrador, an Eagle Republican in his first term.

"There's obviously a need for leadership in the Legislature," Winder told BW. "There's a lot of issues that I think are very important to the urban areas that are not being given a fair hearing.

"We still have a rurally dominated Legislature, but Idaho is not the same state it was 10 years ago," he said.

Winder's entry into a race for District 14 is just one shake-up across the Treasure Valley. The season begins next week, when the state opens its two-week filing period on March 10. As Moyle defends his seat, other prominent lawmakers from the area are considering exits from the Idaho Legislature. They include some leaders of the Idaho Democratic Party, which has made inroads into the Republican-dominated Legislature in recent years.

Winder said transportation and growth were areas of particular concern. He said state lawmakers have failed to give local governments the ability to deal with growing problems.

"It's a real transition time in Idaho," he said. "As you look around the state ... [urban areas] are growing, and they need the means to take care of the needs of their citizens."

If Winder enters the race, he brings with him a well-known name, political experience and an urban-based support network.

"How do we change leadership in the Legislature and bring in a new perspective of the urban areas?" Winder asked.

The race may become a vivid example of the growing gap between urban and rural Idaho, with Moyle, a farmer, representing the old guard. Winder points to the fact that over the last several decades, the majority of the state's population has shifted from rural ares to the cities.

While many expect a major shift in the Legislature after the state's political districts are redrawn following the 2010 census, Winder said many people don't want to wait that long for changes.

"I definitely think there's [going to be] some interesting races," he said.

Former Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill, another urban-based candidate, announced last year that she will also run for one of the District 14 seats, although most political insiders now believe she will challenge Labrador.

Calls seeking comment from Merrill were not returned by press time.

The Winder entry could set up a domino effect across both the House and Senate.

If the widely popular Merrill challenges Labrador, many believe Labrador might opt to challenge Sen. Stan Bastian, an Eagle Republican, for his seat in the Idaho State Senate.

Labrador declined to comment on the specifics of his political plans, but said, "I'm definitely running for something."

Big changes are also in store for District 16, with the anticipated departures of two legislators.

Boise Democrat Sen. David Langhorst confirmed that he is considering leaving state government in a run for the Ada County Commission, where he might challenge District 2 Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre.

Commissioner Paul Woods, who represents the county's first district, will also be up for re-election this fall, but no names have yet been forwarded as possible challengers.

Langhorst said he will make his final decision within the next week.

Fellow District 16 Democrat Rep. Margaret Henbest is toying with the idea of leaving politics altogether after 12 years in office.

"It's been difficult to get in touch with my personal ambivalence about how long is too long [in office] and at what point do I step out," she said.

Henbest said her time in office has been rewarding, but she feels now may be the time to step aside and make room for others.

"It's been my quandary," she said.

She has yet to make a final decision on her political future, but promises one before the end of the two-week filing period.

With the probable departures of both Langhorst and Henbest, the Idaho's Democratic Party faces the distinct possibility of losing some of its best-known members, but Minority Caucus Chair Sen. Kate Kelly, a Boise Democrat, said she welcomes the changes.

"I think it's good," she said. "We're seeing a lot of people who want to run and others who want to switch positions."

Kelly said it's a chance to bring new blood into the statehouse.

Lawmakers in Boise's District 19 may also face a challenge from Brian Cronin, former chairman of the Ada County Democratic Party, who told BW that he is considering a run for state office.

District 19 seats are held by Sen. Mike Burkett, Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, and Rep. Nicole LeFavour, all Democrats.

Kelly said she's anticipating an interesting election cycle.

"There will be some races we haven't even thought about that will be interesting," she said. "There are always surprises."

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