West Ada election gets political

Two candidates participate in a City of Meridian candidate forum.

Like all Idaho school board races, the West Ada School District’s upcoming election is nonpartisan. At least nominally.

When four candidates square off to fill a pair of soon-to-be open seats on the board Nov. 2, no “R” or “D” will be adjoined to their names on the ballot. None of the contenders — all parents seeking their first public office — earned candidacy in the state’s largest school district through a party primary.

But politics lie shallow beneath the surface.

Brent Hart, of the district’s geographic Zone 1, and Anita Beckman, of Zone 3, have drawn the public backing of the Ada County Democrats both for their support of mask requirements — a politically charged topic in West Ada — and for something simpler: their opposition to the local GOP’s picks.

The Ada County Democrats got involved in early October, which was at first a reactive move to Republican organizing, said the local Democrats’ executive director, Richard Peebly.

“It’s pretty obvious around the country that the right wing of the political spectrum have been engineering … campaigns to take over school boards and city councils, and that’s not something that we can let happen without giving it our fair shot as well,” Peebly recently told EdNews.

Hart and Beckman have both gotten support from the party as they knock doors and call would-be voters.

Hart has used the party’s voter records to help him phone bank, and Beckman has accepted help canvassing. A mother of four, including a one-month-old, Beckman said “if there was any group (that offered), I would take the help.”

Both knocked the partisan feel of the election in phone interviews with EdNews and said they don’t align themselves with Democrats.

“My concern comes in when you’re making it solely about the party to which you subscribe to, which I do not do. You kind of become … tied to their political agenda,” Hart told EdNews.

Lori Frasure, of Zone 1, and Angie Redford, of Zone 3, are netting clear partisan support of their own. (They did not respond to interview requests made through their campaign websites by the time of publication).

Idaho GOP Chairman Tom Luna has hosted the self-labeled conservative candidates on “Red Wave Radio,” a political talk show, a combined three times. It comes as Luna urges a statewide boost in Republican involvement in school board elections, as EdNews reported.

“It’s critical that you get out and vote and support these conservatives, Republican(s) that ha(ve) stepped up to run in these races,” Luna said at the end of a joint radio interview with Frasure and Redford earlier this month. “And that’s why we’re amplifying these (voices).”

The four candidates’ de facto party endorsements appear to match up with their platforms on politically charged issues, too. Of five FAQs on Frasure’s campaign website, three are dedicated to decrying mask mandates, vaccine mandates and critical race theory, respectively. Redford’s positions on those issues aren’t front-and-center on her site, but her campaign social media statement that “conservatives deserve a trusted, proven voice” on the board solidify her politics for voters.

Their opponents appear to represent the inverse, matching local Democrats’ top priorities.

Said Peebly, “Our objective is to make sure that the candidates that are elected at the local level, particularly for this election, care about things like protecting our students from COVID and making sure teachers are paid adequately, and so we have been supporting candidates that kind of fill that mold.”

Beckman initially launched her campaign when the district “failed to err on the side of caution” by beginning the school year without a universal mask requirement. She and Hart both said they’d answer local hospital leaders’ calls to implement mask mandates – like the one the district currently has in place for students, teachers and staff in classrooms – while coronavirus cases remain high. And both pushed back against claims that there’s widespread leftist indoctrination in public schools.

It’s unclear how much party loyalties will sway voters in a nonpartisan race. The bulk of district residents vote red in party-affiliated races, though West Ada’s Zone 3 bridges West Boise and East Meridian, partly overlapping a region that has become a perennial battleground in state legislative races.

Party-fueled or not, Republican-supported candidates have received an outsize share of donations. Frasure and Redford have far outraised contenders in the 2019 West Ada board election, as well as their 2021 opponents. And Redford has pulled financial support from three state GOP legislators, though secretary of state’s office filings don’t reflect notable upticks in fundraising for either candidate since EdNews reported their campaign finances Oct. 14.

Outgoing West Ada Trustee Sheena Buffi in a recent opinion piece pointed to the large sums in criticizing partisan messaging of Redford’s campaign, opting to endorse Beckman to replace her on the board.

More on the candidates

Zone 1

Brent Hart / Courtesy Brent Hart

Brent Hart holds a master’s degree in psychology. As someone who works with adults with developmental disabilities, and as a father to a student in special education, he’s especially passionate about special ed, he told EdNews. Hart is a Meridian High School graduate and Meridian native who joined the race because “no one was talking about learning loss … teacher retention” or “career pathways for support staff.” He said at a City of Meridian candidate forum — of which he and Beckman were the sole participants — that he’ll bring “less of the rhetoric” and “more of an even keel” to the board than his opponent.

Lori Frasure / Facebook

Lori Frasure has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Idaho State University in East Idaho where she grew up. She has lived in Meridian for 16 years, and first became involved in the school board three years ago when she pushed back against a change Rocky Mountain High School made in its grading system, pulling attention from local media outlets. That got her involved, and since then, she’s been “toying with” the idea of running for the school board, she said on Red Wave Radio. Aside from vocal pushes against mask mandates and critical race theory, she said on Red Wave she’s supportive of using federal coronavirus relief money on tutoring programs, as the district plans.

 Zone 3

Anita Beckman / Courtesy Anita Beckman

Anita Beckman is a U.S. Air Force veteran with a bachelor’s in business administration. She decided to run in late August, when she was almost nine months pregnant, out of concern for her kids entering schools without an active mask mandate. Weeks later, as school began, her whole household, except for her newborn, were infected with COVID-19, she told EdNews. But her priorities have expanded beyond coronavirus protocols, because “this isn’t the only issue that a school board … deals with.” Beckman hopes a career in accounting and her business experience will help her guide the board’s budget decisions if elected, she said at the Meridian forum. Despite the red-blue dynamics of the race, “it shouldn’t have to be a political one,” she told EdNews.

Angie Redford is a graduate of Timberline High School and Boise State University and earned an undergraduate degree in history, she said on Red Wave. She’s worked to support international students in private and public high schools in one job for a decade, and has substitute taught in between, Luna told radio listeners. She also lamented “tone deaf” comments from the West Ada board related to masking, via the radio show.

‘Every decision a fight’

Over the course of the pandemic, COVID-19 protocol discussions have driven quick turnover on the West Ada board. Two trustees and a superintendent resigned over the course of last school year, and two more are letting their terms expire without running for reelection this cycle.

Zone 1’s Ed Klopfenstein, who resigned his role as board chair last year, is one of them. In a statement to EdNews, he said, “my decision not to contend for my seat simply goes down to exhaustion.”

“In the last 19 months, nearly every board meeting has been a protest, every decision a fight. The personal threats made to so many people in the district have been surprising. I truly understand why so many teachers are choosing early retirement or leaving,” Klopfenstein wrote.

Buffi is also letting her term expire, after taking over mid-term after Trustee Steve Smylie resigned.

“Serving as a Trustee in today’s environment is an immense commitment, especially for a mother of four with a full-time career and additional community responsibilities,” the state human resources program manager said in a statement. “However, I ultimately decided not to file for candidacy after learning of Anita Beckman’s interest in running for the seat.”

The two trustees’ replacements will win four-year terms beginning in January.

How to vote

Voters can find out whether they live in Zone 1 or 3 here. Constituents can only vote for candidates in their zone.

They can vote early, absentee or in-person on Election Day, Nov. 2. Here are some key dates and times to keep in mind:

  • Early voting ends Friday, Oct. 29.
  • Absentee ballots must be returned by the time polls close Nov. 2 at 8 p.m.
  • Polls open at 8 a.m. statewide Nov. 2.
Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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