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2024 primaries to watch: Four Boise Democrats compete for open seat in Idaho House

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2024 primaries to watch: Four Boise Democrats compete for open seat in Idaho House

May 16, 2024 | 6:15 am ET
By Mia Maldonado
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2024 primaries to watch: Four Boise Democrats compete for open seat in Idaho House
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Four Boise Democrats will face off in the May 21 primary election for the District 16, Seat B position in the Idaho House of Representatives. From left to right, the candidates include Todd Achilles, Jonathan Chu, Nikson Mathews and Wayne Richey. (Courtesy of the candidates)

In less than a week, four Boise Democrats will face off in the primary election competing for District 16, Seat B position in the Idaho House of Representatives. 

Despite having a Republican supermajority in the Idaho Legislature, Democrats have consistently held all seats in District 16 since 2006, which includes parts of Boise and Garden City. The last time a Republican was elected for a seat in District 16 was in 2004, when former Rep. Jana Kemp held Seat B.

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The position belonged to former Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, who was elected in 2020, and held the seat until February, when he resigned from his position in the Idaho Legislature to focus on his role on the Boise City Council, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. 

The four Democratic candidates competing for his former seat include Wayne Richey, a former candidate for Boise mayor in 2019; Jonathan Chu, a family medicine doctor; Nikson Mathews, an LGBTQ+ legislative advocate; and Todd Achilles, who Idaho Gov. Brad Little appointed to finish Nash’s term. 

According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s latest campaign finance filings, the candidates have raised approximately the following amounts for their campaigns: 

  • Mathews, $43,200
  • Achilles, $40,900
  • Chu, $9,300
  • Richey, $0

None of the Democrats running for the seat this year have won a legislative election before, though Richey is the only one who has experience running for the Idaho Legislature. In the 2022 general election, he ran as an independent candidate for District 16, Seat A. He received 5.9% of the vote, and lost to Rep. Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise.

The winner of the May 21 Democratic primary will face Boise Republican Jackie Davidson in the Nov. 5 general election. Davidson lost to Nash in the general elections of 2020 and 2022.

The Idaho Capital Sun sent a five-question legislative primary questionnaire to the candidates in Idaho’s most competitive races. Here are the responses from the four Democratic candidates running for Idaho House of Representatives District 16, Seat B.

Question 1: What are the top three issues that inspired you to run for office?

Richey: 1) Uncontrolled growth. People moving here (Californians) are not paying for their own growth. Locals have been priced out. 2) Abortions. Idaho has become the most backward state in the nation. 3) The division between the two parties is killing us

Chu: My top three issues stem from my deep commitment to the well-being of our communities and the preservation of our state’s unique identity. Firstly, women’s and maternity health is a cornerstone of my platform. I believe that every woman deserves access to comprehensive health care throughout all stages of life, including maternity care that is both affordable and compassionate.

Secondly, I am passionate about advocating for the rights of every individual to lead their authentic life. This encompasses supporting LGBTQ+ rights, championing diversity and inclusion, being sure to honor and value the humanity of each person.

Need more 2024 Idaho primary election information? Check out IdahoVotes.gov for information on polling places, voter registration, early voting locations, candidate filings, campaign finance records and more.

Thirdly, Idaho’s natural resources and beauty are treasures that must be protected for future generations. I am dedicated to implementing policies that promote sustainable practices, safeguard our environment, and preserve the stunning landscapes that make our state so special.

These issues are not just priorities for me; they are reflections of the values and aspirations of the people of Idaho. As your representative, I will work tirelessly to address these challenges and enact positive change for our communities and our state.

Mathews: What ultimately inspired me to run for office was a desire for more diverse representation in the Statehouse. The average age of our legislators is 60, but the median age of Idahoans is 37. We need younger representation. The number one listed occupation of our legislators is retired or semi-retired. We need more working-person representation. We have zero LGBTQIA+ elected officials in the Statehouse, yet in this last session, over 20 bills were introduced targeting my community. We deserve a seat at the table. The only way we get to well-rounded policy is to have representation reflecting the people in this state. 

Regarding policy, my top three issues are economic security, public education and bodily autonomy. I will advocate for fair and affordable housing, improved post-secondary education and job training access, and safeguarding Medicaid. Additionally, we must fully fund our public schools, ensuring they are safe and our teachers are well paid, and improve access to mental health resources for our students and teachers. Moreover, we have seen an increase in attacks on our bodily autonomy, passing some of the harshest anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQIA+ laws in the country, and that needs to stop.

Achilles: As a military veteran, business executive, nonprofit leader, union member, and university educator, I am running for office to: (1) protect the rights of women and stand in defense of basic human dignity, essential civil rights and personal freedoms, (2) give every kid the opportunity to succeed by fully funding our schools and universities, and (3) defend the economic liberty of all Idahoans by creating a fair economy in which the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and small businesses, ranchers and farmers are protected from out-of-state monopolies.

Question 2: Idaho’s abortion law is one of the strictest in the nation, and many doctors and hospital administrators have said it has made recruitment and retention of OB-GYNs and maternal-fetal medicine specialists even more difficult, especially in rural areas. Do you support any legislation, such as health exceptions, that would amend or clarify Idaho’s abortion law?

Richey: No one likes Abortions. But here is the tricky part. Everyone knows a girl that has had one or is going to have one. And it doesn’t matter what your God says or what your political views are. Abortions are here to stay. So there is a girl out there you obviously care very much for. Like it or not, she has made her decision this is going to happen. Don’t you want a doctor to do it? Anyone who would send these girls back to the coat hanger, maybe they are the monster.

Chu: Yes, I wholeheartedly support legislation to amend and clarify Idaho’s abortion law. The current ambiguity in the Idaho Code has resulted in maternal care deserts, contributing to the departure of 22% of OB-GYNs from their practices as of last summer. Additionally, the loss of half of our perinatal subspecialists and the closure of three labor units across the state further exacerbate this crisis.

It is imperative to protect maternal health and future fertility by addressing these challenges. There should be no exception to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s acute and long-term health.

Furthermore, the current rape and incest exception in Idaho Code is excessively restrictive, as it necessitates a filed police report. This requirement overlooks the reality that two-thirds of rape victims and three-quarters of incest victims do not report their assaults, as indicated by the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Therefore, I advocate for amendments that broaden the scope of exceptions, ensuring that women have access to safe and necessary health care without undue barriers. It is essential to prioritize the well-being and autonomy of women in Idaho, particularly in rural areas where access to care is already limited.

Mathews: Abortion is health care. It is essential for preserving the life and well-being of women and people facing life-threatening pregnancy and reproductive complications. The fear and uncertainty, a direct result of Idaho’s harsh anti-abortion laws, have put our medical professionals in an impossible situation where they are forced to adhere to these cruel laws or risk facing criminal charges if they provide the health care they were trained to provide. It has also impacted Idahoan’s decisions around family planning, with many feeling compelled to leave the state or delay having children for fear of complications that could lead to death or serious and permanent harm. We need to act urgently to undo these bans.

I fully support Idahoans United for Women & Families’ recent announcement to pursue a ballot initiative to restore access to comprehensive reproductive health care. Our laws must safeguard the health and autonomy of individuals, ensuring that critical medical decisions are made based on the needs and rights of patients, not ideological agendas.

Achilles: We need to allow doctors to make appropriate care decisions without government interference. Overturning Idaho’s abortion ban is my top priority because it is one of the greatest threats to the state’s future. The ban is an unconscionable restriction on the rights of Idaho women, it makes it harder for couples to feel safe to start families, it pushes doctors to leave the state, it drives students to colleges outside Idaho, and it makes it more difficult for businesses to recruit employees. The draconian abortion ban must be overturned for the well being of women and the future of Idaho.

Question 3: Do you support public dollars being used for private education, including through tax credits or education savings accounts available to parents, or any other means? Why or why or not?

Richey: Giving tax breaks to rich people for private schools is wrong.

Chu: No, I do not support public dollars being used for private education, whether through tax credits, education savings accounts, or any other means. Idaho currently ranks last in the nation in dollars spent per child on education. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure a robust public education system, just as we provide essential services like fire and police protection.

Public education is a cornerstone of our society, providing equal opportunities for all children to learn and succeed regardless of their background or financial situation. Using tax dollars to fund private education diverts essential resources away from public schools, exacerbating existing disparities and widening the gap between privileged and disadvantaged students.

Furthermore, public funds should not be allocated to support private institutions that may not adhere to the same standards of accountability and inclusivity as public schools. We must prioritize investing in and strengthening our public education system to ensure that every child in Idaho has access to quality education and the opportunity to thrive.

Mathews: Absolutely not. Public dollars should not be used for private education through tax credits or education savings accounts. Public funds should be used to strengthen our public schools, which serve the vast majority of our children. Diverting funds to private schools undermines our public education system and would disproportionately affect students from rural or lower socio-economic backgrounds. This is already an issue we are dealing with, even in Boise, and passing vouchers or tax credits will only further exacerbate the problem. Fully funding our public schools, investing in our school’s infrastructure, making sure our teachers are being paid well, and investing in the mental well-being of students and teachers should be a top priority.

Achilles: No. School vouchers – or education tax credits – undermine our public and charter school systems by raiding Idaho’s public education budget. Regardless of the name, these policies largely subsidize wealthy, urban families whose kids already attend private schools. Vouchers do not create a new source of funds. Instead, vouchers tap into the same budget dollars that are used for public and charter schools, which means that these schools must do the same work with fewer dollars. Rural schools are hit the hardest by vouchers. Importantly, there is no accountability for the private schools receiving taxpayer funds, making vouchers Idaho’s least fiscally responsible proposed legislation. Utah and Arizona passed voucher programs and costs have ballooned by 300% and 1,400%, respectively. I am proud to be part of the bipartisan legislative coalition that has stopped vouchers and I will continue to oppose this bad policy.

Question 4: Transgender people and LGBTQ+ advocates in Idaho have testified that policies, such as redefining sex and gender, criminalizing doctors for providing gender-affirming care to youth, among others, are harmful to the transgender community and undermine their existence. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Richey: I have several gay friends. They are some of the most decent, respectable people I know. Leave them alone.

Chu: No, I do not agree with policies that define sex and gender as the same thing or criminalize doctors for providing gender-affirming care to youth. Conflating sex and gender is an outdated concept reminiscent of a bygone era. Both medicine and society have progressed beyond such narrow definitions, understanding that gender identity is an internal experience, unique and personal to each individual.

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Moreover, there is a fundamental lack of understanding regarding gender management approaches in teenagers. We only inhibit the onset of puberty. We save active hormonal and surgical approaches until time and adulthood allows an individual to make a final decision. Post-pubertal transitioning leads to significant challenges, given the mismatch between appearance and gender identity fosters discrimination and undermines the well-being of transgender individuals and identities.

As a society, we must prioritize providing comprehensive and affirming health care for all individuals, including transgender youth. Criminalizing doctors for offering essential gender-affirming care only serves to perpetuate harm and discrimination against the transgender community. It is imperative that we support policies that affirm the existence and dignity of transgender people and ensure that they have access to the care they need to live authentically and safely.

Mathews: I am one of those advocates who have testified against these very policies. I am a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community and a proud trans person. The minute these types of bills are introduced, the impact is felt by members of my community. There is so much data available to see the direct correlation between this type of legislation and the damaging mental and physical health outcomes, especially among our young LGBTQIA+ community members.

Not only is this legislation incredibly harmful, but it is also wasteful. In the last ten years, Idaho has paid over 14 million dollars in legal fees — this is taxpayers’ money — to defend these unconstitutional laws. This year will be no exception.

The time legislators are in session is precious. It should be spent serving the people of Idaho, not pursuing harmful policies based on extreme ideology. There is real and urgent work to be done in the Statehouse that will benefit Idahoans’ day-to-day lives. We need to get busy doing that work.

Achilles: I agree that these policies harm Idaho’s LGBTQ+ community. These policies are also unconstitutional. The first sentence of Idaho’s Constitution gives all of us an inalienable right of, “…pursuing happiness…” I fought to stop House Bill 668 because it not only violated the rights of tax paying trans adults and trans state employees, but also it was counter to their right to pursue happiness. Every trans person who testified in committee spoke about how they were happily living the life that they wanted. As a legislator, my responsibility is to protect the freedoms of all Idahoans. I will continue to fight harmful bills like House Bill 668 that undermine the autonomy of LGBTQ+ Idahoans, and I will work to stop legislative efforts that try to interfere in healthcare decisions of parents and adults.

Question 5: According to the 2024 Boise State University Idaho public policy survey, Idahoans continue to be concerned about a range of issues surrounding growth, housing and economic security. As a legislator, what specific steps would you take to address those concerns?

Richey: Growth is my number one priority. Five years ago I ran for Boise Mayor. I brought the Growth issue to the front pages. Too many have moved here. Locals have been priced out. That is unacceptable. We are selling off our hometowns to the highest bidder, mostly Californians. We must roll up the red carpet and slow the invasion. We built a wonderful State for our children. We didn’t build it just for new people moving here. I will never stop fighting for those that call this their hometown

Chu: To alleviate the financial strain on low-income families, I advocate for the elimination of taxes on groceries and feminine hygiene products. These are essential items that should not be subject to taxation, as they disproportionately impact those with limited financial means.

Furthermore, I aim to address the fiscal damage inflicted on rural and smaller communities, such as Garden City, by legislation like House Bill 389 passed in 2021. This legislation has hamstrung these communities’ ability to afford proper growth infrastructure, unfairly burdening current taxpayers to subsidize new development. I believe in revisiting such policies to ensure that they promote equitable growth and development across the state while protecting the interests of all Idahoans.

Mathews: When I think about these issues, they are all very tightly connected, and improving them has a compounding benefit, enabling Idahoans to achieve stability, pursue opportunities, and plan for their future.

Pathways through education and skilled job training are key. I will advocate for post-secondary options that lead to better pay and minimal-to-no student debt. Not only would this allow folks to pay their bills, build up their savings, or even put a downpayment on a home, but it would also directly benefit our communities and infrastructure. 

I will advocate for balancing property taxes, promote affordable housing projects, and reform our rental laws. This includes proposing and backing legislation that protects renters from excessive rent hikes and unjust eviction practices.

As Idaho grows, our infrastructure and transportation systems must evolve to meet the demands of our expanding population. This includes expanding public transit options to reduce congestion, lower emissions, and connect people more efficiently to jobs, education, and healthcare services.

I look forward to collaborating with our Union, education, transportation, business leaders, and Idahoans to pursue efforts that build the economy of our communities.

Achilles: I hear these issues raised in my conversations with District 16 voters. First, we need to give cities more resources to invest in advance of growth, which means more local control and taxing authority.

Second, housing supply lags demand in nearly all of Idaho, with a particular shortage in the affordable and middle market housing categories. In the last session, I worked to stop the Legislature’s interference with the development of the vacant Idaho Transportation Department State Street campus, which would bring more than 1,000 new units to District 16 and lower Boise housing prices.

Third, we must address Idaho’s unfair economy. Idaho ranks 40th for per capita income and is one of just 20 states that still have an unlivable $7.25/hour minimum wage. We need to raise wages, strengthen unions and rebalance our tax system by rolling back last year’s flat tax so the burden to fund the Idaho government is no longer on middle- and working-class families.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Achilles was not the substitute legislator for former Rep. Colin Nash, but rather he was the appointed by Idaho Gov. Brad Little to finish Nash’s term. This story was also updated to reflect that Jonathan Chu has raised $9,300, not $820.