Spilled Votes

One last look at the conservative domination of the Idaho elections earlier this month

OUCH! It's hard, very hard, being a Democrat in Idaho. Democratic candidates took an excruciatingly painful drubbing at the Idaho polls on Nov. 4.

The election has been over for more than three weeks now, but the agony lingers. You are very justified in saying GET OVER IT.

OK, but let me pick at the scabs one last time.

Our Democratic statewide candidates were unusually well qualified, baggage-free and appealing. They comprised as smart and savvy a team as you could ask for. On the other hand, several Republican candidates for statewide office sported tarnished histories and/or questionable qualifications.

A majority of the voters didn't seem to care. The 38 percent of eligible voters who did care enough to vote, voted simply along party lines. Nobody seemed to be listening. Or if they were listening, maybe it was to the national news. The state's problems never caught the public imagination. Campaign money did not appear to matter.

Pundits have described voters nationwide in 2014 as angry and frustrated. Maybe Idaho Republicans vented their anger in the May primaries and just voted their party loyalty in November.

Or if they were still mad in November, they were mad at President Obama, the price of gas and taxes. Idaho Republicans didn't seem to be mad at their sitting congressmen or their state legislators. In fact, our incumbents, with few exceptions, skated right back to their seats.

We are plagued by an unfortunate enigma: How can voters continue to complain about the do-nothing Congress and laughable legislature, yet continue to vote the same federal and state legislators back into office time and time again?

The small group of Democratic legislators hung on to their jobs as well. In fact, the exception to the incumbent sweep was the election to the state House of Representatives of Democrat Paulette Jordan, a young member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. Jordan will represent Legislative District 5, which includes the North Idaho cities of Moscow and St. Maries. Also, Democrat Dan Rudolph from Nez Perce County will join the House Democratic caucus if his 26-vote lead survives a recount.

Republicans piled up large margins in the rural counties. Ada County, which contains the state's capitol, Boise, gave Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff an 11,000-vote edge over Gov. Butch Otter. Balukoff's margin was easily erased by rural returns, however, including those from counties in the Idaho Panhandle.

The biggest disappointment to those of us who are ardent public school advocates was Democrat Jana Jones' loss to Sherri Ybarra, a school administrator from Mountain Home, in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Ybarra had plagiarized materials on her website, neglected to vote for years and years, and had been very reckless with the truth. Jones, whose experience spanned three decades under three different state superintendents, most recently as top assistant to Democratic State Superintendent Marilyn Howard, was superbly qualified.

Idaho has been a conservative state for many years now. Idaho agriculture, with its "Famous Idaho Potatoes," has historically been the backbone of the state's economy. Farmers are understandably conservative. Farmers and rural, small-town folk are comfortable with the way things have always been done; traditionally they are averse to change and careful with their money.

Unfortunately, the conservatives in charge of Idaho's future are playing penny wise and pound foolish with Idaho's tax dollars.

Evidently conservatives in the legislature don't understand that the biggest financial loss to the state comes from underfunding public education. Crowded schoolrooms and overworked and underappreciated teachers produce overlooked and undereducated students. Dropouts are a big financial cost to society. They don't seem to understand that investing in Idaho's public schools, colleges and universities is an essential component of a healthy Idaho economy.

And conservative Idaho doesn't seem concerned about the dollars our backward indigent health care program is leaching from property taxes and the state fund, without providing sound, comprehensive health care to the state's medically needy. The so-called conservative legislators refuse to accept federal dollars promised by the Affordable Care Act through Medicaid revision, because they don't trust the federal government and despise our president.

Conservatives would love to take over the management of federal lands within the state, perhaps the greatest asset Idaho possesses. There's no way Idaho can afford to manage these lands. Conservatives are throwing money at high-priced lawyers to pursue a takeover of federal lands, which the state's own lawyer, our attorney general, thinks is an expensive, unwinnable cause.

OK, enough about spendthrift conservatives. And enough crying over spilled votes. The Idaho ship of state will right itself sooner or later. And whatever the condition of their schools may be, Idaho children will continue to sing, with innocent gusto, "Here we have Idaho." ♦

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