Do Dems have the drive to win more seats in November?

 Finally, we have come to the last day of the wackiest Idaho primary election ever. 2020 will be legendary for Idaho county clerks from this day forth–envelope shortages, mis-mailed ballots, crashing online sites, unsigned envelopes, court orders and all. 

The time for mailing ballots is past.  Still, hundreds of ballots may be slipped into slots at election offices today. Clerks will be busy checking signatures, opening envelopes, working creases out of the sheets, and running stacks through the counting machine. 

We might have results tonight–but some races may be so tight we’ll have to wait until every ballot is processed.    

Many voters were disappointed to see few contested races on their ballots.  Unless there was a local levy, Independents voted only for judges. Democrats had two contested races–House and Senate–at the top of their ticket, but only Boise Democrats saw contested legislative races.

There were Republican against Republican challenges in 28 of Idaho’s 35 districts.  

Democrats filed for only one-third of the county offices up for election and less than one-half of the legislative seats. Essentially, nearly 100 Republicans will be elected today.

Chances are that most were supported by only 15% of those eligible to vote in November.   

That might sound like business as usual, but Stephen Hartgen, a former five-term Republican legislator, noted that we are seeing a “sharp drop in Democratic Party competition statewide…some 20 percent fewer [legislative candidates] than in 2018.” 

A quick check found that Hartgen was right. 

In 2016 Democrats filed for 64 of 105 legislative seats; in 2018, 72; and this year, 56.

One might think that Idaho’s blue wave rippled and died, but it’s the vote in November that will count. 

Democrats now hold 20 legislative seats, up from 16 two years ago. 

Fifty-six candidates still give them lots of possibilities for gain.  

And if voters have been paying attention, Democrats will gain.  

For the Medicaid Expansion initiative to pass by 60% in 2018, one-third of Republican voters had to support it. Many Republican legislators didn’t care that the majority of their constituents supported expansion. They knew that the majority of those that voted for them hadn’t. They flaunted their opposition, passing a number of waivers to limit participation and complaining about paying 10% of the cost to insure thousands.  

They also passed a bill–later vetoed by Gov. Brad Little–to require future initiative petitions to get more signatures in more counties in half the time. 

In addition, they voted to prevent use of the millions in revenue from the new sales tax on online purchases for education or healthcare or infrastructure. They dedicated the money to tax relief–then failed to cut the sales tax on groceries or increase the homeowner’s exemption for property taxes.  

Certainly, some voters will remember in November. Will it be enough to make a difference?

That may depend on why Democrats have fewer candidates. 

If the number dropped because fewer activists were willing to invest time and effort, Democrats are in trouble. 

But it’s a different story if fewer Democratic candidates stepped forward because activists saw initiative petitions as offering more significant returns. We’d need to replace 20 or more incumbents to get the legislature to consider bills that would raise the minimum wage, improve school funding, or legalize medical mariuana. 

Successful bipartisan initiatives could bring those changes in little more than a year.

And might have–if the coronavirus shutdown hadn’t killed the petition drives. 

Now, I doubt these activists will choose to sit on their hands during this election–and they could make a huge difference in spreading candidates’ messages. 

We’ll see.  

Reflections on local elections

Boise isn’t the only city with a runoff election Dec. 3.  

Caldwell is planning one also–at least that was true Sunday as I wrote this.

Apparently, the council passed an ordinance requiring a “majority” vote back in 1989 and promptly forgot about it. For 30 years, candidates went on winning with pluralities.  

Then the notorious John McGee–who racked up criminal charges while representing District 10–got 39 percent of the votes.

And someone “discovered” the law.  

Probably no one except McGee is more surprised than second place candidate Evangeline Beechler

For now, the moral of the story seems to be that the consequences of acting above the law can go on and on–or not.  We’ll know more after Dec. 3

I’ve some other things on the recent election. 

For one, If Caldwell is an example, the Idaho legislature’s decision to change school board trustee elections from May to November did increase voter turnout.  

In May 2015 the number of voters who turned out to vote in Caldwell School District zones 2 and 4 were 214 and 145. In November this year, 801 and 411–or 3.75 and 2.75 as many. 

I see this as good–voters should vote. 

Yet, defeated West Ada trustee Mike Vuittonet felt that the additional voters were less informed than the traditional ones. Their decisions may simply based on whether a trustee raised taxes or not. (More discussion is at

Looking at election results, it seems that a lot of incumbents lost–20 out of 43.  

That would seem unusual since Incumbents have the advantage of name recognition, a track record, and fundraising experience.

But Idaho School Board executive Karen Echeverria doesn’t see the number as high; over 200 trustees did not have contested elections this year. (Again

That could mean a lot of voters are satisfied with the current policy setters or that they aren’t informed.  

This leads to a second reflection–we need to develop more channels to get information out.   

I imagine there are towns where people not only know the candidates, they can tell you about their kids. But local elections are hardly “local” in cities with populations over 8,000 or 10,000. The county provides a sample ballot and not a word more. 

And local campaigns are low-budget ones where candidates often make do with social media and one flyer to hand out door-to-door.  

City council candidates may get forums, but most others do not.  

Local newspapers do a great service by publishing interviews or surveys, but not enough people are subscribers. 

The problem isn’t new, but I heard more complaints this year. Voters were agreeing with Mike Vuittonet–they didn’t feel informed.  

 We need some good minds  brainstorming on what can be done.   

And this election again proved that a few votes can make a big difference.    

That’s potentially true at every election, but it’s practically the norm for local elections. 

Nampa District’s supplemental levy lost by 10 votes–or 0.13 percent. Swan Valley District’s lost by 39 votes or 16 percent. And the two districts with successful levies–Lake Pend Oreille and Minidoka–squeaked through with 51 percent.

Wilder City Council candidate Guadalupe Garcia lost by one vote. (Didn’t Wilder have a tie with a coin-flip not too many years back?)  Just four years ago the Caldwell School District had all three trustee races decided by four votes. This year the two contested trustee seats were decided by 11 and 31 votes.

Don’t get irritated about last minute calls reminding you to vote.

They are confirming that your vote is important.      

Elections: Thanks to those who “carried on”

by Judy Ferro

“There is only one redeeming thing about this whole election. It will be over at sundown, and let everybody pray that it’s not a tie, for we couldn’t go through with this thing again.” –Will Rogers-

                Part of me wishes Will Rogers was around to comment on today’s election, and part of me is glad the humorist has been spared the hostilities of our day.

As bad as the presidential race has been, however, Idaho’s Congressional and legislative races have not been noticeably more rancorous than in previous years. I like to think it’s because Idahoans are basically civil and more likely to say “Oh, honey, I’m sorry but I can’t vote for a Democrat,” than to utter threats.

It’s possible, however, that the civility results from Republicans’ confidence. Democrats have not polled well in Canyon County, but we’ve developed bonds not unlike those of Cubs’ fans. We know that, somewhere over the horizon, lies victory. Meanwhile, we keep a spotlight on important issues, strengthen centrists, and influence legislative priorities and policies.

I’m particularly thankful to candidates who, year after year, step up knowing that the odds are solidly against them. They offer voters a choice and present our message. To a person, they advocate for better schools, the rights and dignity of all, and preservation of our public lands. I especially appreciate the commitment of those who are “pro-life for the whole life” and advocate for all people.

I’m beholden to the core team of Democrats who develop the plans, slap on the address labels, make the phone calls, and get their friends out to vote.

This year I’m particularly appreciative of the 1,775 Canyon County Democrats who shared their enthusiasm and comradery at the caucus in March. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the 100 volunteers who signed people in, took part in the program and the band, and counted the ballots.

I’m grateful for those who represented Canyon County at the state convention and helped develop and adopt a two-page platform expressing Democratic values.

I’m also thankful to many who aren’t Democrats. Idahoans of all parties helped inform the public by making candidate forums possible, publishing candidates’ answers to questionnaires, providing fact checking, and writing informative letters-to-the editor. I value the insights into Idahoans’ views provided by the polls of Dan Jones and Associates.

I appreciate the friends and families that have maintained civil relationships through the trying presidential campaign by explaining their opinions, honestly and without rancor, or simply replying with a shrug and a grin.

And I appreciate the trained corps of election workers who are working long hours at the polls today and tallying votes all through the night.

I’m proud of the Idahoans who’ve worked through the decades to make voting accessible by providing voter information and registration forms on-line, instituting same-day registration, and providing for automatic enfranchisement of felons who have served their sentences.

And I’m thankful for the individual citizens who’ve taken the time to weigh the issues, learn about the candidates, and vote for the down-ballot candidates as well as for president

History will look on the presidential election of 2016 as bitter and nasty; we can hope its record is never surpassed. Quite likely, the millions who continued to maintain our democracy by responsibly carrying out civic duties will not rate a mention.

If we are to heal, however, we must remember not the outrages that earned the headlines, but the countless citizens who carried on.

Politics: Primary contests heating up

by Judy Ferro

Guess what’s coming up May 17.

The primary elections! You knew that, right?

That means candidates are trying to reach you right now—though some seem to think osmosis will do.

The hottest race involves all of us: the non-partisan contest with Sergio Gutierrez, Curt McKenzie, Robyn Brody, and Clive Strong vying for Supreme Court justice. For a lot of voters the most information they will see is the April 20th newspaper coverage of a two-hour forum sponsored by the Idaho Bar Association. Interestingly, Gutierrez is the only judge; the other three are lawyers with varying areas of experience.

Incumbent Molley Huskey is the only candidate for the Appellate Court position.

For those voting in the Democratic primary, the most competitive race is for the nomination for U.S. Representative from Idaho’s First Congressional District. Boise lawyer James Piotrowski has campaigned enthusiastically in Canyon County and plans to attend a social hour at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Canyon County Democrat’s office at 1104 Blaine, Caldwell. An environmental activist, he wants to see that public lands continue to be managed for the benefit of all. He is also a strong supporter of education and of employee rights.

Staniela Nikolova is biology student at the University of Idaho. Her website outlines her stands on nine major issues, including student debt, healthcare, and criminal justice. She calls for public discussion on genetic engineering.

Shizandra Fox is a certified diet counsellor in Sonoma, CA, who may have wanted to ensure that some Democrat would oppose Rep. Labrador. Or, possibly, she just wants to say she has run for Congress. .

Boise businessman Jerry Sturgill is unopposed in his bid for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Mike Crapo. The Canyon County Democratic legislative nominations are also uncontested.

The Republican races for county offices have candidates with familiar names and verifiable experience. I believe all three candidates for sheriff–Kieran Donahue, Albert Erickson, and Tony Thompson—are good men. I imagine voters will decide on the basis of their administrative vision and ability.

As an incumbent county commissioner, Craig Hanson has been determined to spend tax money on a new jail opposed by the voters and the sheriff. Fortunately, voters will have a choice. Nampa City Councilwoman Pam White is also running.

A forum at 7 p.m. next Monday at Caldwell High School will feature Republican candidates for sheriff and commissioner.

Websites indicate that Republican candidates for legislative positions are far more partisan, concerned with God, guns and vaginas rather than Idaho issues. Laughably, one candidate’s pages on issues features one word answers—yes or no—rather than dealing with any complexities.

Surprisingly, only one Republican is now running for the open seat left by Sen. Curt McKenzie. The contested contest in District 13 (south Nampa) is between Gary Collins and Alan Jones.

District 11, on the other hand, has five Republicans vying for nomination for the House seat vacated by Gayle Batt; only two of the names are familiar to me. In addition, both of the district’s other seats have at least one challenger.

Unfortunately, only two of these nine candidates have websites listed on the Secretary of State’s Primary Candidate information page; four have submitted statements. You’d think that candidates running in a district that includes almost all of Canyon County outside of Nampa, Caldwell, and Parma would reach as many as possible on-line.

One can hope they put more effort into communicating at the forum at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Nampa City Hall. Republicans for contested races in districts 11 and 13 are participating.


Politics: A Dem State-of-the-State

In a few hours Gov. Otter will unveil his agenda for Idaho’s 2015 legislative session. Most of us will be pleased by some items and upset by others. Last year’s refusal to recommend needed educational funding still rankles me. Fortunately, the legislature gave education more than lip service.

I generally hope for the best possible agenda from a conservative governor who faces fierce opposition from the right wing of his party.

Down deep, however, I yearn for actions that would truly be the best for the people of Idaho. Here is what I’d like to hear the Governor say.

We may take four major steps to save taxpayers’ money and stimulate the economy.

First, we will stop wasting taxpayer money on lawsuits for purely political purposes. The Supreme Court will rule on same sex marriage based on lawsuits brought by individuals in Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Louisiana without Idaho’s help. Our task force rightfully concluded that Idaho can’t afford to manage these federal lands because, unlike in Utah, our lands don’t have oil reserves to exploit. And Obama’s executive order on immigration doesn’t differ enough from dozens of similar orders by previous presidents to expect the courts to change it. That’s up to Congress.

Second, we will save taxpayer money by staffing the Tax Commission enough to ensure adequate enforcement of tax laws and by expanding Medicaid to cover those who don’t make enough to benefit from the Affordable Care Act. The latter will not only save lives, but will reward, rather than punish, people for being employed. In addition, we will work to get Federal approval of a school broadband contract that is not biased toward my campaign donors.

Third, now that nearly half the states have raised their minimum wage above $7.25 an hour without economic catastrophe, Idaho will plan for annual increments that will allow one person with a full-time job to pay for basic food, rent and transportation for two people. Idaho taxpayers must stop subsidizing the labor costs of profitable businesses.

Fourth, we will heed the opinion of over 70% of Idahoans and “add the words” to extend basic rights to housing and employment in spite of sexual orientation and gender identity.

There are also four areas in which we must invest money for the future: education, infrastructure, jobs, and justice.

We must bring our public school funding per student up to pre-recession levels before we concern ourselves with major changes. We want schools to remain focused on education young people rather than on filing reports. We will continue to listen to parents and educations as we work to prioritize the Educational Task Force recommendations.

We must find the $300 million necessary to maintain our roads and bridges. We will recommend increases in gasoline taxes, vehicle license fees, and use of general funds in order to spread the burden. Remember, this measure will add jobs that stimulate the economy as well as protecting the state from lawsuits resulting from continued negligence.

We must work with private companies to provide the workforce development and technical education to make hiring here more attractive. We will also invest in university laboratories and research; they are business incubators. We will encourage continued expansion of wind and solar power generation.

We must continue to improve our justice system by providing an effective public defender system and providing basic treatment for substance abuse and mental illness.

And, finally, we must find a way to give state employees a 3 percent pay increase.

Join with me in working toward a more prosperous Idaho.