BOISE, Idaho — Some of Idaho’s candidates seeking higher office focused more time on the campaign trail while the Legislature was in session for the past three months.
In total, six hopefuls vying for governor, lieutenant governor and Idaho’s 1st Congressional District spent the session juggling their duties inside the Idaho State Capitol while also getting out of Boise so they could hit the campaign trail.
According to a review of the House and Senate journals, however, not every candidate used the same approach to maintaining their attendance.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little, a Republican seeking to become governor in the May primary, missed 34 Senate floor sessions throughout the 80-day session — which adjourned last week.
Eight of those days were spent as acting governor when Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was out of the state. Little also joined Otter during the governor’s “Capital for a Day” events, where the Republican governor takes his cabinet to towns across the state to talk to the public.
Otter is not seeking a fourth term this year, which opens the race to top Republican candidates including Little, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist.
“Lt. Gov. Little takes his role as a leader in this state very seriously and has turned what is traditionally a part-time job into a full-time position,” Zach Hauge, Little’s campaign manager, said in a statement Monday. “He is dedicated to his position and the people of Idaho. Because it is a campaign season, Lt. Gov. Little was absent a handful (of) times for campaign related activities.”
Little’s 34 absences this year is the most he’s missed during his three terms in the post. In comparison, Little missed 12 legislative days in 2014 when seeking re-election for lieutenant governor.
However, Hauge said that just seven of the absences were spent on the campaign trail. The rest were spent because of his position as lieutenant governor or for personal-related reasons.
According to Idaho’s constitution, the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and only votes to break a tie, which rarely occurs in the Republican-dominant chamber. When the lieutenant governor misses a Senate floor session, typically the Senate president pro tempore steps in.
However, one notable Little absence this session was missing the Senate’s vote on the sweeping $200 million tax cut plan. Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill was forced to ask Sen. Bob Nonini of Coeur d’Alene to fill in for Little because Hill was sponsoring the tax cut proposal.
Nonini is running for the now open lieutenant governor seat and missed three days throughout the session. His fellow opponents also skipped just a handful of days. Republican Sen. Marv Hagedorn of Meridian missed just one day, while Rep. Kelley Packer of McCammon missed three days — two of which were missed at the end of session due to her mother passing away.
Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene missed 10 days in the House while campaigning for the open 1st Congressional District seat but he often had a substitute appointed to cast votes in his place.
This included finding a substitute in February to fill his spot on the influential legislative budget setting committee when they determined the state’s public schools budget. Setting the education spending plan is considered one of the most high-profile actions the panel takes during the year.
Malek did not immediately return a phone message requesting a comment.
Malek’s absences were noted by one of his challengers also serving in the Idaho House, Republican Rep. Christy Perry of Nampa.
“We all noticed my opponent was missing, it was obvious,” Perry said.
Perry says she missed two days on the House floor and a handful of afternoon committee meetings due to demands of the campaign.
“I tried really hard not to miss a floor session. It was exhausting though, running up and down the state whenever I had a moment,” Perry said.
Former Democratic Rep. Paulette Jordan was the only candidate seeking higher office to step down from her legislative post mid-session to devote more time to her gubernatorial campaign.