Four incumbents, Boise student win Boise trustee races

(UPDATED, 9:54 a.m. Wednesday.)

Four incumbent trustees were easily re-elected Tuesday, while high school senior Shiva Rajbhandari captured a seat on the Boise School Board.

Rajbhandari, a Boise High School student who recently turned 18, unseated incumbent Steve Schmidt, appointed to the board less than a year ago. Rajbhandari will serve a two-year term.

The final results, released early Wednesday morning, capped an unusually crowded and sometimes contentious round of elections in the state’s second largest school district.

Here’s a look at the numbers:

  • Race #1 (six-year terms, top two vote-getters elected): Beth Oppenheimer (incumbent), 15,430 votes, 41%; Dave Wagers (incumbent), 13,905 votes, 37%; Krista Hasler, 4,230 votes, 11%; Greg Woodard, 3,871 votes, 10%.
  • Race #2 (four-year term): Andy Hawes (incumbent), 13,569 votes, 70%; Neil “Gnome” Mercer, 3,367 votes, 17%; Matthew Shapiro, 2,340 votes, 12%.
  • Race #3 (two-year term): Elizabeth Langley, 11,393 votes, 60%; Nate Dean, 2,918 votes, 15%; Todd Kurowski, 2,745 votes, 15%; Dawn King, 1,834 votes, 10%.
  • Race #4 (two-year term): Rajbhandari, 10,944 votes, 56%; Schmidt, 8,461 votes, 44%.

Turnout was up sharply from 2020, but remained low. All told, 19,944 votes were tallied Tuesday. Two years ago, 7,722 voters cast ballots, translating to 6% turnout.

“It was the turnout that we had always hoped for,” Oppenheimer said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m really thankful that people are playing more attention to school boards and school districts.”

Now that the campaign is over, she said, the board needs to focus on communicating with engaged parents and voters. This was a recurring point in the summer’s campaign: challengers, and even incumbents such as Langley, said the board doesn’t do enough to communicate with the community.

“We can do better,” Oppenheimer said.

This year’s races drew a spate of candidates — incumbents and challengers alike.

Two six-year incumbents, Oppenheimer and Wagers, sought re-election. They were joined by three relative newcomers: Hawes, Langley and Schmidt. All three had been appointed to fill board vacancies since the September 2020 election. They were on the ballot for the first time Tuesday, seeking election to the final years on their appointed terms.

The five incumbents ran as a ticket, but drew a crowd of opponents. By the end of the filing period, 18 candidates had turned in paperwork. Five challengers — all affiliated with The Well, a Boise church — withdrew soon after filing, leaving 13 candidates in the field.

Endorsements played heavily in the crowded races.

The Boise Education Association, the district’s teachers’ union, endorsed the five incumbents.

But a second group that endorsed the incumbents — Idaho Students First PAC — withdrew its support for Schmidt in the campaign’s waning days. The move came after Schmidt drew the endorsement of a far-right group, and did not disavow the support.

The Idaho Liberty Dogs — a hardline group also at the heart of a dispute over Meridian Public Library materials — endorsed Schmidt and a slate of challengers: Hasler, Woodard, Mercer and Kurowski.

Schmidt and Mercer publicly distanced themselves from the Liberty Dogs, saying they did not seek the group’s support. Mercer said he did not accept the endorsement.

Boise’s trustee elections are a standalone, outlier race.

Most school districts hold their board elections in November, in conjunction with odd-year municipal races. Boise operates under a governing charter that predates statehood, which calls for elections in early September.

Tuesday’s winning candidates will be sworn in at Monday’s school board meeting.


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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