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Carlson: A first-ever?

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Odds are heavily against it happening soon. Stars would plausibly all have to align perfectly to create a first ever in Idaho politics—the election of a woman as governor.

Looking around the northwest, though, one quickly realizes odds are growing that a qualified female will someday lead even Idaho. Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Utah are neighboring northwest states that have had female chief executives.

In Idaho, each party possesses at least one talented, intelligent, articulate, qualified female who, while they might have to be “drafted,” could plausibly run for and win the nomination of their party to be governor, as soon as 2014.

On the Republican side the nominee could be veteran Sandpoint State Senator Shawn Keough. On the Democratic side the nominee could be freshman State Senator Michelle Stennett, from Ketchum.

While there are clear differences between them, they share much in common: both are smart, tough, knowledgeable, non-ideological, pragmatic problem solvers. They share an abiding belief in the importance of education as well as its priority place Idaho’s constitutional writers said it should have.

Senator Keough has an edge in understanding how Idaho’s budget works because of long-standing service on the budget writing Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. Senator Stennett, however, worked closely for many years on legislative and budget matters with her late husband, Clint, who she succeeded upon his death last year.

Keough’s possible candidacy would be more intriguing and surprising for it would throw a major monkey-wrench into the plans of extreme far right Republicans trying to impose ideological purity tests on any who dissent from their views on issues. Even such whacky notions as repealing the amendment that put the election of U.S. Senators in the hands of voters instead of the hands of a Legislature is considered a litmus test in order to call one’s self a Republican.

Both State Senator Keough and neighboring Cocolalla State Senator Joyce Broadsword have been subjected to GOP county party censure resolutions for not being pure enough defenders of right-wing orthodoxy, especially on the issue of education.

Senator Keough’s concerns about proposed Otter/Luna reforms as well as what turned out to be unnecessary cuts in education funding because of political posturing and gamesmanship, could make her candidacy very attractive to the many members of the Republican party, as well as Idaho’s independents, that still support the primacy of adequately funding k-12 education, paying teachers competitive wages and also keeping higher education funding at responsible levels.

While this is all pure speculation, and would be considered at best terribly premature by both (the governorship is not on the ballot until 2014) if either has even given any thought to it, both are astute enough politicians to recognize real obstacles that would stand in the way of such a contest happening.

For Senator Stennett it would be the continuing disarray of the Democratic party itself and its inability to recapture the Cecil Andrus/John Evans formula for attracting enough Republicans and Independents to carry a Democrat into statewide office.

For Senator Keough, she would not only have to withstand a primary challenge sure to come from the right wing in 2012, she would have to hope the “crown prince,” Lt. Governor Brad Little, would be challenged by two hard-core, tea party favorites, and southern Idaho LDS conservatives—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, and First District Congressman Raul Labrador. While there is growing evidence Luna is seriously considering the race, lately some Boise political observers speculate Labrador is also taking a long look at the governorship.

If all three males were to get into the fray, though, it is a safe wager pressure would increase on Senator Keough to take the plunge, especially if the state’s teachers and university educators were to line up in support of her. Then, she could easily emerge from such a fractured primary.

The bigger obstacle though for her may be the effect of Republican Party led changes in Idaho’s primary system. These changes are clearly designed to make party nominees more pure in the eyes of the tea party as well as designed to keep independents from voting in the Republican primary, as well as Democrats from crossing over.

So the stars really will have to line up correctly. It is possible though Idaho could see a rarity of rarities: two highly qualified women leading their party’s ticket in 2014. Idahoans will be the winners regardless of who emerges in such a race, which can’t be said if the GOP selects one of the two possible male candidates who are the only ones that can pass the purity test of the GOP’s wing-nut faction.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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