[Vision2020] Newcomers with something to prove

Moscow Cares moscowcares at moscow.com
Mon Mar 4 09:32:40 PST 2019

Courtesy of the Lewiston Tribune at:



Newcomers with something to prove
Idaho Legislature welcomes a handful of Democrats, several Republicans with family ties to state service

BOISE — Being elected to the Legislature is a bit like joining an extended family: Newcomers are accorded a basic level of respect, but everyone’s also checking them out to see what they contribute to the whole.

That’s particularly true for minority Democrats, who can’t afford any dead weight. The scrutiny is perhaps a little less severe for a handful of freshmen Republicans who have family ties to the Legislature.

Here are a few lighthearted impressions from the two groups:

The Democrats

Democrats picked up a net of four seats in the 2018 election, including one seat in the Senate and three in the House.

Sen. David Nelson D-Moscow
Retired engineer and business owner

If there’s ever a need for a vacation guide to the world’s oil refineries, Nelson could crank one out in a heartbeat.

“Tarragona, Spain, is the nicest place with a refinery I’ve ever been to,” he said. “The hotel there looks right out at a Roman coliseum.”

Nelson co-owned a business that developed energy management software for the oil industry. He traveled all over the world meeting with customers.

“One refinery I wish I’d visited was in Venice, (Italy), but it closed before I had a chance,” he said. “My least-favorite place to go was the Middle East. It always felt dangerous there.”

Through his involvement with the Moscow Rotary Club’s youth exchange program, Nelson also helped hundreds of high school students experience foreign cultures.

“It was really satisfying work,” he said. “A lot of programs do one-way exchanges, but we did true exchanges.”

One of his daughters, for example, spent a semester with a family in Norway while their son came to live in Moscow.

His other daughter went to Australia. His wife went to visit her during the end of her stay. The dad of the family they stayed with was “basically an overeducated surfer,” Nelson said. He built paddocks for a number of the ranches around Wilsons Promontory, a national park near Melbourne. That meant he had keys to the paddocks, so he took them around to some amazing private beaches while they were there.

Nelson didn’t make that trip. Given all the travel he did for work, he said, “after a while you got tired of being away.”

Rep. Steve Berch D-Boise
Owns a consulting business

When Berch first ran for office in 2012, he received 46.9 percent of the vote.

He did a little better in 2014, earning 48.4 percent, followed by 49.2 percent in 2016. He finally beat six-term Republican incumbent Lynn Luker last year, with 54.5 percent of the vote.

“I knocked on over 20,000 doors and personally spoke with 12,000 voters,” he said. “I’ve walked every street in my district at least twice.”

It’s been more than 20 years since the 15th District elected a Democrat, but Berch found that people were willing to look past party affiliation and vote for someone they’d interacted with one-on-one.

“I think there’s such a hunger for people to know who they’re voting for,” he said.

Berch earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota. After 35 years at Hewlett Packard, he opened his own firm, specializing in business planning and process consulting.

Rep. Chris Abernathy, D-Pocatello
Journeyman wireman and union official

“Union-friendly” may be an unfamiliar or even unwelcome term in parts of Idaho, but in Bannock County, where Abernathy was born and raised, it’s part of the culture.

“It’s probably the most union-friendly area in Idaho,” he said.

Abernathy dropped out of college when he was accepted into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ apprenticeship program.

As a journeyman, he said, “We work on everything from power lines to fiber-optic systems. We’re qualified to go anywhere in the United States.”

Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum
Professional speaker

The dog got her name.

That was Davis’ explanation for how she ended up with the nickname “Muffy.”

When her mom was pregnant, she said, her dad gave her a pet dog. She named the dog “Nicky” and named her daughter “Marianna.”

“She called me Muffy because she liked the name, but the dog got the name I should have had,” Davis said. “I’ve always been called Muffy, even though I’m not preppy.”

Davis, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident when she was 16, has earned seven medals in the Paralympic Games in alpine skiing and cycling.

Rep. Jake Ellis, D-Boise
Retired firefighter

After fighting wildfires for seven seasons, Ellis was getting ready to become a smokejumper when a position opened up with the Boise Fire Department. He served 27 years with the agency, retiring as a battalion chief.

Now he’s in the Legislature.

“I joke that I went from the fire into the frying pan,” Ellis said.

One of the biggest surprises about firefighting, he said, is that you can enter a burning building and survive — as long as you have good equipment and training.

“The reason firefighters die is they go into an unknown environment,” Ellis said.

He recalled one occasion when his unit responded to a garage fire. When they reached the back of the smoke-filled structure, they found a full propane tank.

“If it had exploded, it would have blown us out the front of the building,” he said.

Rep. Rob Mason, D-Boise
Works in public lands conservation

It’s the traditional “magic wand” question: If you could wave a wand and go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

For Mason, the answer is the upper Little Lost Valley and adjacent upper Pahsimeroi Valley in eastern Idaho.

“It’s my absolute favorite place in the world,” said Mason, who has worked in public lands conservation for about 20 years.

Flanked by the Lemhi and Lost River ranges, the high, remote valleys are accessed by a single dirt road. They’re full of wildlife and spectacular views.

“It’s magic,” Mason said. “I can’t wait to get back there.”

Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise
Senior transportation planner

Growing up in Los Alamos, N.M., Green received a get-out-of-jail-free card she has yet to cash in.

She and her identical twin, Dawn, would occasionally play games on people. Once a year, for example, they would switch places at school. That all worked fine — until the day Dawn got sent to detention.

“She had already gone home, so I served her detention for her,” Green said.

After someone ratted her out, she and Dawn had to go see the principal. He made Dawn serve her detention — but also said she’d have to fill in for her sister if Green was ever assigned to detention.

“I got a free pass, but never used it,” Green said.

All in the family

Given Idaho’s relatively small population and the composition of its citizen Legislature, it isn’t uncommon to find family ties in the Statehouse. That’s true of several freshmen this session.

Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg
University administrator

Ricks’ parents didn’t exactly force him to go to college, but when the local institution is named after your great-great-grandfather, it’s hard to say no.

Ricks College — now BYU-Idaho — started out as a local secondary school in the 1880s. Owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was renamed Ricks Academy in 1903, in honor of Thomas Ricks, the local LDS stake president and chairman of the school board. Another name change followed in 1923, when it became a two-year junior college.

Rep. Ricks studied farm crop management at the school. He was also introduced to computers there. He later opened the first computer store in Rexburg, and now works at BYU-Idaho providing technical assistance for blind and disabled students.

Legislative service also runs through his family roots: His father, Mark Ricks, served in the Idaho Senate for eight terms, from 1979 to 1994, and was lieutenant governor for six months when Jim Risch was governor.

Rep. Linda Hartgen, R-Twin Falls
Retired court administrator

After working as a nurse’s aide when she was younger, Hartgen ended up earning a business management degree through Lewis-Clark State College. She later served as Twin Falls County clerk and spent 23 years with the Idaho Supreme Court as a court administrator.

Hartgen’s husband, Steve, retired last year after five terms in the House. He’s busy writing a book, so he hasn’t pestered her with much advice.

“On occasion he’ll tell me to pick my battles, but I learned that a long time ago,” Hartgen said.

Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg
Farmer/small business owner

Raybould served as an intern for Gov. Dirk Kempthorne when she was a student at Boise State University.

She took another step forward with public service last year, when her grandfather, Dell, retired after nine terms in the House.

“I’ve wanted to do this since I was in high school,” Raybould said. “When he retired, I decided the timing was perfect.”

Patience was the biggest lesson she learned from watching her grandfather.

“The reality is, you’re rarely going to be able to accomplish big goals in one legislative session,” she said. “It may take two, three, five years to reach the end.”

Rep. Kevin Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs
Rancher/horse trainer

After an unforgettable experience at a rarely visited location, the legislative session has been all downhill for Andrus.

He recently took his girlfriend up to the very top of the Statehouse dome to propose.

“It was an opportunity to do something pretty special,” Andrus said of his plan to pop the question.

“I scoped it out ahead of time,” he said. “The pages all go up there and write their names on the bricks, but they can’t go to the very top.”

The dome is 208 feet high. There’s a lower, interior balcony, as well as a spiral staircase that leads up the outside.

The young lady said yes.

“I had to check first to see if she was afraid of heights,” Andrus said. “That could have ruined things.”

Andrus’ father, Ken, served six terms in the House before he retired in 2016.

Sen. Regina Bayer, R-Meridian
Retired real estate broker/business owner

Bayer was appointed to the Legislature in January after her son, Clifford, resigned to become chief of staff for newly elected Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher.

Bayer is hardly a newbie to the legislative process. Her husband served one term in the Idaho House in the 1980s. In those pre-internet days, lawmakers would receive a thick “bill book” every day that had copies of all pending legislation.

“We’d lay the pages out on the pool table and spend the whole night reading,” she said. “The kids complained because they couldn’t play pool all winter.”


Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares" (the most fun you can have with your pants on)
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho

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