PAC withdraws support for Boise trustee; union stands by endorsement

A political action committee has withdrawn its support for an incumbent Boise trustee — days after the incumbent received a controversial endorsement from a hardline conservative citizens’ group.

Steve Schmidt

However, Boise’s teachers’ union continues to endorse Steve Schmidt.

The saga unfolds as Boise’s trustees’ race heads toward a Sept. 6 election date — with endorsements taking center stage in these normally quiet, nonpartisan races.

The story began unfolding over the weekend, when board candidate Andy Hawes posted a flyer on his campaign’s Facebook page. The flyer listed four endorsements: incumbents Beth Oppenheimer and Dave Wagers, running for two seats in Race No. 1; Hawes, the incumbent in Race No. 2; and Elizabeth Langley, the incumbent in Race No. 3. All four incumbents have the Boise Education Association’s endorsement. But the flyer doesn’t mention Race No. 4 — or the BEA’s endorsement of incumbent Steve Schmidt, which the union announced more than a month ago.

On Monday, Schmidt said the omission wasn’t a coincidence.

“I know there were some discussions internally at the BEA over the weekend and they plan to issue a statement early this week,” Schmidt said in an email to Idaho EdNews Monday.

On Tuesday, BEA President Stephanie Myers said little about the situation.

“The BEA has not withdrawn its support for Steve Schmidt in Race #4,” Myers said in an email.

Pressed about the omission — and whether the BEA had taken a second look at the endorsement, Myers again said little. “What I can tell you is that Steve Schmidt remains an endorsed candidate of the Boise Education Association.”

But Schmidt has lost the support of Idaho Students First, a PAC that was formed to campaign on behalf of the five Boise incumbents. The incumbents “have served admirably during difficult times,” said Colin Nash, a Democratic state representative who serves as the PAC’s treasurer. But Schmidt’s handling of the hardline Idaho Liberty Dogs’ endorsement was the deal-breaker.

“When Steve Schmidt refused to disavow the support of a fringe extremist group – one responsible for the very kind of targeted harassment and inflamed rhetoric that has led to so many trustee resignations – (Idaho Students First) withdrew its support for his candidacy.”

Nash explained the confusion about the flyer, and the omission of Schmidt. He said the flyer came not from the BEA, but from the Idaho Students First PAC. It has since been edited, to remove the BEA’s name and logo, he said.

The Liberty Dogs’ endorsements

Idaho Liberty Dogs has led a public push against the Meridian Public Library, decrying materials it describes as “smut-filled pornography.” Last week, the group turned its attention to the Boise races, endorsing challengers Krista Hasler in Race No. 1, challenger Neil “Gnome” Mercer in Race No. 2, challenger Todd Kurowski in Race No. 3 and Schmidt.

Shiva Rajbhandari

After the endorsements came out, Race No. 4 challenger Shiva Rajbhandari criticized Schmidt for failing to condemn the Liberty Dogs. “I believe that it is the duty of elected officials to listen to the voices of all constituents, but bowing to hate, violence, and intimidation in our schools is unacceptable. It frightens me that a sitting school board trustee does not understand the danger that this group poses to our community,” Rajbhandari said Wednesday.

Initially, Schmidt distanced himself from the Liberty Dogs, but vowed to listen to all groups “as I work to make decisions that are in the best interest of all students.”

On Saturday, Schmidt further distanced himself from the group. “I didn’t seek, nor was I interviewed for, the Idaho Liberty Dogs endorsement. I’m not a member of their group. I unequivocally reject any use of bullying, hate speech, or intimidation tactics.”

A second Liberty Dogs-endorsed candidate also distanced himself from the group.

“So that it’s clear, I haven’t requested, nor have I accepted, ANY endorsement from any group,” Mercer said in an Idaho EdNews guest opinion Tuesday.

Learn more here: Read the Boise trustee candidates’ responses to Idaho EdNews’ questionnaire; read where the candidates stand on book bans and critical race theory; and watch virtual forums with the candidates.

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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