That was a campaign slogan for Democrat Vernon K. Smith in the 1962 governor’s race and the rallying cry that I heard a few times that year in my hometown of Osburn. My dad, especially, thought Gov. Robert Smylie had been in office long enough and it was time for a change. Smith’s pro-gambling platform was an attraction to the Silver Valley, where backroom betting was a way of life in the mining community.
Things were a little gloomy in our house when we found out that Smylie had won election to a third term. My dad explained that politics is controlled by those in the southern part of the state and it didn’t matter what people in Shoshone County wanted.
During my professional career, I lived in Idaho Falls for six years and I have been living in Boise for the past 15 – long enough to know that Idahoans in the south are good people who do not carry pitchforks and have horns growing out of their heads. But in politics, they generally get what they want. And at the moment, there seems to be a conspiracy to prevent Silver Valley people from getting the kind of legislators they want in the Statehouse.
In recent years, the Silver Valley has been represented by Democrats with a conservative bent, such as Marti Calabretta, Larry Watson and Mary Lou Shepherd. Today, the Silver Valley delegation consists of two conservative lawmakers from far away – Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood and Rep. Paul Shepherd of Riggins. The third legislator, Rep. Shannon McMillan, lives in Silverton, but wins by big margins without carrying Shoshone County. Her close ties with Nuxoll and Shepherd give her a lot of votes in the south, making it nearly impossible to beat her in District 7.
A longtime friend of mine who helped draw up the legislative district map understands why people in Shoshone County don’t like the geographic makeup of District 7, but says there was no other way for the independent commission to come up with a plan that meets judicial approval. To people in Shoshone County, District 7 looks, feels and smells like gerrymandering to help the most conservative members of the GOP caucus.
“It’s next to impossible for a Democrat to win,” said Casey Drews, who is opposing Nuxoll but has been more focused on preparing for her bar exam. “They have created the largest district in the state, which already has the largest county in the state – Idaho County, which covers 9,000 square miles. That’s bigger than multiple states in the nation. It’s impossible to campaign there effectively.”
Shepherd and Nuxoll are fine with the arrangement, because they live there. For McMillan, there’s hardly a need to go there.
Shepherd is one of the most sincere and genuine people in the Legislature. But he seems to view issues such as Obamacare, Common Core and Medicaid expansion as communist plots. Nuxoll is known as much for off-the-wall statements than legislative accomplishments. She gained a lot of attention comparing Obamacare to the Holocaust. McMillan, in profile interviews with the Shoshone News-Press, refuses to say how long she has lived in the Silver Valley. But none of that matters where most of the votes are.
Three Democrats are giving it a try, with varying degrees of effort. Drews, who lost to McMillan two years ago, and Ken Meyers of Sagle are opposing Shepherd. Sagle is a small sliver near Sandpoint, and apparently the redistricting commission didn’t know what to do with it. So they put it in in District 7. Drews and Meyers are presenting themselves as alternatives for Democratic voters, but they are not actively campaigning.
Jessica Chilcott of Sagle is running against McMillan and making more of an effort. She has gone to fairs in Cottonwood and Grangeville and visited many of the smaller communities.
Chilcott has a good chance to carry Shoshone County, but little chance of winning the office – which is like living in 1962 all over again. Shoshone County is, has been and always will be Idaho’s political punching bag.
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