Former Idaho Republican senator wants Nampa seat back in this competitive GOP primary race

One of the Idaho Senate’s most outspoken far-right lawmakers, Brian Lenney, this GOP primary election is defending his seat against a challenge from the former senator Lenney defeated in the 2022 primary — an expensive race that’s become a microcosm of the conflict within the state Republican Party.

Lenney faces Jeff Agenbroad, a former three-term senator, in the May 21 primary to represent District 13 in southeast Nampa.

The repeat race is widely viewed as a potential harbinger in the Legislature, where Lenney and fellow members of the far-right Idaho Freedom Caucus picked up seats two years ago and have since battled with the party’s more traditional members.

Agenbroad, who co-chaired the Legislature’s powerful budget-setting committee, was one of five committee chairs to lose their Senate primary to a challenger in 2022, according to previous Idaho Statesman reporting. What happens in District 13 could indicate how much sway the far-right still has in the fractious Republican Party.

‘The lobbyists will have their champion’

Lenney and Agenbroad have been competing over fundraising this spring, with Lenney pulling in more than $52,000 and Agenbroad raising over $63,000.

The two candidates have also sparred over each other’s Republican bona fides, with Lenney accusing Agenbroad of being an insufficient conservative who supports too much government spending and has the backing of corporations. Meanwhile, Agenbroad has charged Lenney with being a bomb-throwing activist for the far-right who scorns some of his constituents and is unable to build consensus.

“I’m here as a member of the Idaho Freedom Caucus to serve the people and defend our constitutional rights, while he’s focused on serving lobbyists, unions, bureaucrats, and the executive branch,” Lenney told the Statesman in an email. “If my challenger manages to return, the lobbyists will have their champion, the bureaucrats their puppet, and Idahoans will get a backseat role in their own governance.”

Lenney, a close ally of the powerful Idaho Freedom Foundation, is known for having fringe views about the COVID-19 pandemic and an aggressive stance against what he calls the “woke agenda.” He has been endorsed by Idaho Freedom Action, the political arm of IFF, and Attorney General Raúl Labrador.

In committee hearings, Lenney sponsored bills this year to limit the power of public health districts and ban mask mandates. During those presentations, he frequently used air quotes when describing the pandemic.

Last month, Lenney called members of Congress waiving Ukrainian flags “disgusting Nazi flag-waving sellouts” in a post on X. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has now exceeded two years.

In addition to his wish to cut new government spending, Lenney has endorsed the view that public schools indoctrinate children to become LGBTQ+. In response to a post about celebrities with transgender children, Lenney wrote there are “not a lot of trans homeschool kids.”

‘What is a legislator elected to do?’

In an interview with the Statesman, Agenbroad touted his record of passing legislation, noting that he sponsored 106 bills while he was in the Senate, 99% of which passed.

He pointed to Lenney’s frequent votes — along with other members of the Freedom Caucus — against agency budgets, as well as several legislative efforts Lenney brought forward this year that failed to become law: a bill to add protections against frivolous lawsuits and the bills to limit public health districts and mask mandates.

He said Lenney has spent his time in the Senate throwing “bombs” and “making noise” but has not worked with a broad group of lawmakers to make policy changes. Agenbroad said he generally supported agency budget bills because he believed in the budget committee’s process, and that he backs Idaho corporations that support the state’s economy.

Agenbroad has support from agricultural entities like the Idaho Cattle Association and Snake River Sugarbeet Growers Association, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police and the firefighters’ union.

“What is a legislator elected to do?” he said. “Just put their voice out there with a bigger megaphone, or are they actually elected to get something done on behalf of the people they represent?”