Analysis: Winners and losers from Tuesday’s elections

Now that the votes have been counted for another Idaho election night, let’s assess Tuesday’s winners and losers:

West Ada School District: Stay tuned. But in Idaho’s largest school district, continuity took a hit. Voters recalled trustees Tina Dean and Carol Sayles — and after a bitter, high-profile campaign, the vote tally wasn’t really close.

Philip Neuhoff In Studio2 Interview 4_19_16
Philip Neuhoff

So here’s the scorecard. West Ada’s three remaining trustees will appoint to fill the board vacancies. By the time all of this is finished, Philip Neuhoff will rank second on the board in seniority. He was appointed in February.

Oh, and new superintendent Mary Ann Ranells was hired only five months ago.

Maxine Bell
The co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Sen. Shawn Keough, left, and Rep. Maxine Bell.

Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Here, score a big win for continuity. The co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee — Sen. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint and Rep. Maxine Bell of Jerome — survived GOP primary challenges. So did Rep. Wendy Horman, the Idaho Falls Republican who has been the lead writer of K-12 budgets in committee. For public schools, this all points to a committee that will stay the course on funding for teacher pay, literacy and classroom technology.

Gov. Butch Otter. By and large, it wasn’t a bad night for the governor. Otter took the unusual and quite possibly unprecedented step of weighing in on the recall of two nonpartisan school trustees. Had the recall failed, it would have been an embarrassing result for the governor. Otter’s legislative endorsements were a mixed bag. He went eight for 12 Tuesday — but, notably, he backed unsuccessful challengers to Reps. Ron Nate and Judy Boyle.

The Legislature’s far right. A rough primary for GOP hardliners. Some of the Statehouse’s most prominent conservatives failed to survive a closed GOP primary that, ostensibly, should favor hardliners. Seven legislative incumbents lost Tuesday, and four could be fairly labeled as hard-right Republicans: Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood and Reps. Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home, Shannon McMillan of Silverton and Kathleen Sims of Coeur d’Alene.

Will these results really change the politics of the 2017 Legislature? I won’t hazard a guess. Predicting how newbie legislators will vote is, at best, an inexact science. And there is the matter of a November general election, before lawmakers hit town again.

Idaho Freedom Foundation/Idaho Freedom Action. It wasn’t a great night for a group that went all in this primary cycle. Yes, the conservative group had a hand in ousting two House incumbents: Merrill Beyeler of Leadore and Paul Romrell of St. Anthony. But this group was going after bigger wins. The group threw plenty of criticism at Keough, and she won. Two House Republicans who publicly called out the Idaho Freedom Foundation — Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene and Kelley Packer of McCammon — also survived conservative challenges.

Wins like this have a way of emboldening fellow legislators.

Wayne Hoffman
Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman

After the results were final, Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman predicted that the 2017 “will be even more conservative, regardless of what happens in the general election.”

It’s certainly Hoffman’s prerogative to predict. But consider these facts. In its 2016 post-session report card, the foundation handed 51 lawmakers a grade of F-plus or worse (whatever an F-plus means). Twelve of these lawmakers faced GOP primary challenges Tuesday. Nine of them won.

Nate. As regular Idaho Education News readers will likely remember, we have had our battles with Nate over the proper use of content found on the Internet. That history aside, Nate’s primary win Tuesday is noteworthy.

Ronald Nate
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg

The first-term Rexburg Republican withstood an establishment trifecta. Otter endorsed Nate’s opponent, Doug Ricks. Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, kicked $1,000 into the Ricks campaign. House Speaker Scott Bedke signaled his sentiments by not donating to Nate’s campaign — while supporting 21 of 25 House Republicans with primary opposition.

All of this could make for some awkward moments.

As with the lawmakers who fought the Freedom Foundation and won, Nate’s victory could have an emboldening effect.

It’s hard to imagine Nate (an A-plus legislator, by the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s metric) capitulating to leadership. It’s also hard to envision Nate changing his politics. That could mean another run at getting rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests, or another constitutional amendment that could lay the groundwork for a school voucher system.

Wilder School District. Nineteen of 20 school districts convinced voters to pass a supplemental levy Tuesday. Wilder was the lone exception.

Wilder iPad rollout (1)
In this March photo, Wilder students try out new iPads. Students in the Canyon County district received the tablets through an Apple program geared toward low-income schools across the country.

Demographics make supplemental levies a challenge in Wilder; nearly 94 percent of students in the Canyon County district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And in 2014, Wilder had to take two shots at passing a two-year, $598,000 supplemental levy.

Tuesday was a good night for supplemental levies in districts as large as Caldwell and as tiny as the 18-student Arbon Elementary School district. But as policymakers pay attention to the continued need for supplemental levies, Wilder is cast in an uncomfortable role: the case study of a district dealing with a failed levy.

More elections coverage:


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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