Nov 11 2012

A disconnect

Published by at 11:01 am under Idaho,Idaho column

idahocolumnn

Idaho’s 44 counties voted 132 times in all on the three ballot propositions on last week’s Idaho ballots, concerning the school-related “Luna laws.” In those 132 contests, counties voted to sustain them 11 times and reject them 121 times. In the case of Prop 3, all 44 counties voted to reject the laws strongly promoted by Idaho’s governor, superintendent of public instruction and passed by both houses of the Idaho Legislature.

(Those contrary counties, by the way: Fremont, Jefferson and Owyhee backing Props 1 and 2, and Adams, Boise, Cassia, Lemhi and Madison just on Prop 1.)

That was a stunning result, much the biggest news from this year’s Idaho general election, and not even so much the grand total as it was how widespread it was. The big Republican wins on the presidential and congressional side were of course expected, and the Idaho Legislature’s remaining exactly as Republican (extremely) was no shock either – at most it might realistically have shifted by a couple of seats or so. Nearly without exception, Idaho elections 2012 played exactly to the norm we’ve seen for two decades running.

The education issues were no given, however. Surveys and anecdotal evidence a year ago and into this spring seemed to suggest the efforts by the Idaho Education Association and others to repeal the laws passed in 2011 would fail. Idaho voters have no strong history of overturning at the polls what their legislators have enacted. And in this case, the enacting was done by the people elected overwhelmingly by Idaho voters.

Someone asked if there are voters who thought these laws originated from Democrats. That’s hard to answer conclusively, but the association between the laws and Idaho’s overwhelming governing party could not be clearer. Nor is there much dispute that the laws are an extension of recent Idaho state policy on education, teachers, accountability, outsourcing and more. They tie together coherently.

So this question: Is there a disconnect between voters attitudes on candidates (and their parties) on one hand, and public policies on the other? Or, more bluntly: Are there a lot of Idaho voters who really like electing Republicans, but without closely linking that to whatever those Republicans do once in office? I’m not claiming an answer here, but I think the question is fair.

There’s been a line of argument for a few years that one tactic Idaho Democrats might usefully try is a series of carefully targeted ballot issues, the thinking being that they might be more successful in winning support for those (not on all Democratic issues, of course, but on some of them) than in electing candidates with the fatal “D” after their names on the ballot.

This election may, in Idaho anyway, help make that case.

A quick note about last week’s column, which mentioned the last independent elected to the Idaho Legislature, A.L. Freehafer of Payette County. I said that I didn’t know much about him, but it turns out at least one column reader knows quite a bit more. Boise attorney Ken McClure wrote in to say that Freehafer was his great-grandfather, and grandfather of his dad, former U.S. Senator James McClure. The senator’s middle name, Albertus, was taken from the A. in A.L. Freehafer. (I’d always wondered where that came from.)

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