"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

The lonely independents


In 1928, a man named A.L. Freehafer was elected to the Senate from Payette County. (Back then each county elected a senator and at least one representative.) We don’t know much about him, but we do know that he had served a couple of terms two decades previous, and one more after the election of 1930.

We also know this: He was elected in 1928 as an independent, not as a member of any party. That is a rarity in Idaho. Every Idaho legislator elected in the years since, including Freehafer himself in 1930 (as a Democrat), has been elected either as a Republican or a Democrat.

Such are the odds for any candidate choosing not to run under the umbrella of one or the other. Usually, non-major party candidates aren’t a big deal in terms of the vote count, picking up a sliver of the vote. If a major party candidate isn’t opposed by the other major party, a third-party or independent candidate might collect a quarter or even more of the vote. But close calls have been almost nonexistent.

But before we cross to the far side of election day, take note of a legislative race that’s not on most radar screens, and after the fact might or might not be of interest. On election night, cast a glance over to District 7 and the Senate contest between Republican Sheryl Nuxoll, of Cottonwood, and independent Jon Cantamessa, of Wallace.

Those candidate addresses give you a sense of the size of this district: Immense, from the outskirts of Sandpoint down to where northern becomes southern Idaho. It is also hard to get around, since so much of it is in backcountry with winding highways, if those. Newly created this decade, it will be a hard district to represent.

The more or less incumbent – she current is a senator – is Nuxoll, now wrapping up her first term. In 2010 she defeated an incumbent Republican in the primary and easily won in the general in her old district, which takes in much of the southern part of the new one. She is well positioned in the Idaho County and Clearwater County communities, with deep family and other connections. She has made a few missteps as well, though, such as sending campaign-like mailers on the state dime to not just current constituents, but to people in the northern part of the newly-formed district.

Cantamessa has his base of strength too, in the northern part of the district; he has been a Shoshone County commissioner (his brother is running to replace him), and has been involved with a mass of regional organizations. His family has operated a grocery at Wallace since 1925.

Like Freehafer, Cantamessa has some background with major parties. When he was elected to the Shoshone commission in 2004, he ran as an independent against both a Republican and a Democrat. Seeking re-election in 2006 and 2010, though, he did so as a Democrat. But he has picked up support from other quarters. His web site carries endorsements from Phillips Baker, CEO of Hecla Mining and Republican Senator Joyce Broadsword (she’s not on the ballot this year), whose district is close by.

District 7 is Republican territory, and Nuxoll may win easily. But this is an unusual case, and Cantamessa a more-advantaged candidate than usually runs as an independent. Keep a watch here for an indicator of how well, or not, an independent candidate for the Idaho Legislature can do.

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