Before the conventional-wisdom version of the departure and replacement of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna sinks in further, it's time to poke a few holes.
The scenario was laid out in the January 28 Idaho Statesman: “Tom Luna takes one for the team.” His announcement of not seeking re-election this year, in that telling, had partly to do with clearing politics out of this legislative session's consideration of the schools reform package, and partly to allow the Republican Party to move on from the “Students Come First” package Luna once championed, and which was trounced by the voters. And – snap of fingers, in a puff of smoke, in the public's view – the name of Melinda Smyser emerged as the all but unstoppable replacement come this November.
We'll not descend here into trying to read Luna's mind, or anyone else's. But before anyone thinks they've been given the final word on the matter ...
Luna announced his non-run on January 27. About a month earlier, on December 20, he was quoted as saying he fully intended to run. The logical question is: What changed? Certainly not this year's schools package at the legislature; it and its proponents and opponents were well known before then. If that were the consideration, a better time to announce would have been before this year's legislative session started. Luna's big annual appearance before the legislature, at the budget committee, already happened before his announcement; if damage to the school package was being done (which is doubtful anyway), it was done already.
The other part of the purported equation involved Luna harming Republicans by running. Again, that calculation, however valid or not, could have been made as easily a month ago, although it's possible that polling or other maybe informal research might have been underway in that period. If so, we haven't heard.
So you have to wonder: Did something else change as regards Luna, and his plans public or private?
The quick rise of Melinda Smyser, who as it turned out didn't want to run, as the sudden frontrunning Republican nominee seemed a little odd too, though her name apparently has been spitballed as a possibility in Boise conversations for a while. It's not that Smyser was an unrealistic candidate for the office; she has been a teacher and counselor and had been a member of the Parma School Board, and she was a state senator, not a bad resume combination. But no one seems to have asked her if she was even interested; as it turned out, within hours, she wasn't. Usually when a name surfaces quickly that way it's because that person had been quietly promoting it, but evidently that wasn't the case here.
No other names seemed to rise so quickly to the surface, not those of the little-known educators in American Falls and Grangeville who have said they plan to run for the Republican nomination for the office, nor Steve Smylie, a former Republican legislator and educator who did run for superintendent in 2006, who was exploring the idea. Nor, at first, state Senator Steven Thayn, who evidently is very interested.
Was there interest in some quarters in foreclosing some of those options? The possibility of an incendiary Republican primary, based on the names of people already certainly interested, is quite real as matters sit.
These are all points that probably ought to be factored in considering the succession, and are likely to be shown up as relevant when more of the story is told.