Superintendent’s race: the Smyser rumor

Monday’s most conspicuous cameo appearance belonged to Melinda Smyser.

Melinda Smyser
Melinda Smyser

The former state senator — who now heads up Sen. Jim Risch’s Boise office — was briefly spotted at Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s swan song Statehouse presser. But Smyser was gone before reporters could ask her about whether she’s positioning to run for superintendent in 2014.

No matter. Smyser still isn’t talking.

When the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey tracked Smyser down Monday, she declined comment.

“I just wish you wouldn’t say anything,” she told Popkey. “And I’ve been very careful about not saying anything to anybody for a long time.”

Evidently, she has stayed on message. When I contacted Smyser in November to ask her about the superintendent’s post, I got the same response. As a federal employee, she told me, the Hatch Act forbids her from campaigning for partisan office. So, no comment.

I pass along this information to demonstrate that this Smyser-for-superintendent rumor has been making the rounds for a long time. Long before Luna announced he would not seek re-election in 2014, and back when Luna was sending public signals that he planned to run again.

Luna took pains not to endorse Smyser — nor any other announced or unannounced candidate for his soon-to-be-former job. But Luna pointed out to reporters that Smyser was his first campaign treasurer. He also told reporters that he has had “conversations” with Smyser about a possible run, but not since he decided not to seek re-election.

Smyser’s political connections are well-established, and they transcend her time in the Statehouse and on Risch’s staff. She’s also one half of a GOP power couple; her husband, Skip Smyser, is one of the state’s most prominent lobbyists. (His long list of clients includes two education stakeholders: Idaho Business for Education and Education Networks of America, the Nashville, Tenn., company that has landed lucrative contracts to hook up broadband and WiFi in Idaho schools.)

But in a Monday interview with Popkey, House Speaker Scott Bedke was quick to point to Smyser’s background in school counseling. She is also a former school trustee in Parma.

At least for now, Smyser is the rumor of the moment. We’ll keep tabs on this — and other developments — as the playing field shifts.

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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