Election final: Critchfield talks about her future leading schools; more statewide results

In the wake of a landslide victory, Debbie Critchfield said she’s ready to serve the people and educators of Idaho.

“People are ready for real leadership in education,” the former State Board president and Republican nominee said late Tuesday night. “It’s not so much about making drastic changes as it is about having a plan, someone that sees where we want to go and knows how to work to accomplish the goals.”

After Tuesday’s election, Critchfield is poised to become Idaho’s next superintendent of public instruction. She received 69.7% voter support to 30.3% for Democrat Terry Gilbert.

Critchfield’s huge win defied recent history. Four years ago, Republican Sherri Ybarra was re-elected with 51.5% support. Ybarra was first elected in 2014 with a 50.6% majority.

Critchfield, a former school board trustee and two-year president of the State Board of Education, already has her goals lined out. She plans to announce changes among top staffers in the State Department of Education within days of the election.

But the Republican doesn’t want the transition to concern administrators or trustees.

“I want to assure school districts that through this transition, as we pass the baton from one leader to the next, that they can still count on support,” she said. “I know this can be an anxious time for our school leaders, but I have every reason and every desire to make their school year go well.”

Critchfield celebrated Tuesday night with her family, including her mom who traveled from out of town, and her campaign staff.

The new superintendent will lead Idaho’s public schools system, and oversee the State Department of Education and its 130 employees, ending Ybarra’s eight-year stint in office. 

Critchfield spoke at the Republican Party’s election event late Tuesday night, with her family and campaign staff gathered behind her onstage.

The state superintendent’s office is the most important office in the state,” she said. “This is how we create our future.” 

Throughout her campaign, Critchfield put 55,000 miles on her car and circled the state six times, mostly visiting schools. She wants to carry that commitment into office, she said Tuesday, before thanking Idahoans for their votes.

Gilbert kicked off the Democratic Party’s Tuesday event with his own speech. 

He said running as a Democrat in Idaho has been challenging, but worthwhile. 

“I knew that when I said I was going to be a candidate, the hill would be very steep,” he said. “Whatever happens tonight will happen, but it’s been worth it.” 

Democratic candidate Terry Gilbert spoke to a crowd of at least 100 Tuesday night.

Critchfield was a substitute teacher for six years, but served the bulk of her career as a school board member and communications officer in the Cassia County School District. 

Critchfield’s received criticism from both sides of the aisle for her stance on vouchers and school choice. She’s said she intends to support school choice and open up options, but won’t “voucherize” the education system or divert funds from rural schools. 

Other key election results

Governor. Republican incumbent Brad Little rolled to an easy re-election.

Minutes after polls closed at 9 p.m. MST, the Associated Press and CNN both called the race for Little.

Seeking his second term, Little had 60.5% of the vote. That’s on track with his 2018 pace, when he was elected with 59.8% of the vote.

Democrat Stephen Heidt trailed at 20.3%, with independent Ammon Bundy at 17.2%.

Speaking to the GOP’s election night gathering Tuesday night, Little said he wants to “make Idaho the best possible place for our children and grandchildren to choose to stay.”

Said Little: “We’re ready to keep Idaho the least regulated state, we’re ready to release innovation…We’re ready to provide Idahoans with more relief from taxes.”

Lieutenant governor. House Speaker Scott Bedke recorded a convincing victory.

The Oakley Republican recorded 64.3% support. His Democratic opponent, Terri Pickens Manweiler of Boise, trailed at 30.5%. Running on the Constitution Party ballot, perennial candidate Pro-Life came in at 5.1%

Bedke will succeed Republican Janice McGeachin, who lost to Little in the May GOP primary.

Attorney general. Former state GOP chair and U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador handily won an open race, with 62.6% support. Democratic candidate Tom Arkoosh trailed at 37.4%

Labrador, a former congressman and state GOP chairman, will succeed 20-year Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Labrador ousted Wasden in the May primary.

SJR 102. A constitutional amendment to allow legislators to call themselves into session received slim majority support.

Senate Joint Resolution 102 passed with 52% support.

Legislature. After some turbulent results in swing districts, Republicans picked up one seat in the Legislature.

Republicans will still hold 28 of 35 Senate seats, and now hold 59 seats in the 70-member House. The House margin changed Thursday with news of a vote-reporting error in a race in the Magic Valley’s District 26 — a change that flipped one race from Democrat to Republican. (Details from Kelcie Moseley-Morris of the Idaho Capital Sun.)

In the Moscow area’s District 6, former state Sen. Dan Foreman is headed back to the Legislature. The Viola Republican ousted Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, picking up 50% of the vote in a narrow, three-person race.

Democrats turned the tables in West Boise’s District 15. Democrat Rick Just picked up 50% of the vote in a three-person race, defeating GOP Rep. Codi Galloway, a House member looking to move to the Senate.

College of Western Idaho. Three incumbents, and a newcomer aligned with the incumbents, swept four trustee races Tuesday night.

The nonpartisan CWI races took on a partisan flavor, with four challengers running as a Republican ticket.

Here are complete numbers from Ada and Canyon counties:

  • Zone 1: Nicole Bradshaw, 64%; Alisha Hickman, 36%.
  • Zone 2: Molly Lenty (incumbent), 52%; Ryan Spoon, 25%; Gordon Simpson, 22%.
  • Zone 3: Jim Reames (incumbent), 57%; Jan Allan Zarr, 43%.
  • Zone 4: Annie Pelletier Hightower (incumbent), 63%; Thad Butterworth, 55,811, 37%.

The winners join trustee Cherie Buckner-Webb, who is in the middle of her four-year term.

North Idaho College. The balance of power appeared to shift again on the embattled NIC board:

  • Zone 1: Tarie Zimmerman, 28,353, 51.6%; Ronald Hartman, 26,608, 48.4%.
  • Zone 2: Brad Corkill, 27,662, 50.4%; Diana Sheridan, 27,220, 49.5%.
  • Zone 5: Mike Waggoner, 29,162, 53.6%; Pete Broschet (incumbent), 25,240, 46.4%.

Kootenai County voters are voting on three trustee seats filled by the State Board of Education in May. The three appointed trustees hired new President Nick Swayne this summer, over the objections of holdover trustees Todd Banducci and Greg McKenzie.

As at CWI, these races had a partisan overtone. The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee endorsed Hartman, Sheridan and Waggoner.

The three winners will join Banducci and McKenzie on the five-member board. Banducci and McKenzie were elected in 2020, with the support of the Kootenai County GOP.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

More coverage: Click here for Kevin Richert’s live blog, and here for Carly Flandro’s coverage of local school bond and levy results.

Sadie Dittenber

About Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected]

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