The biggest single headline out of Tuesday’s elections in Idaho cities and school districts probably was a structural one: Lewiston will now have a strong mayor system, shifting from its long-time council-manager form, and it also elected a strong mayor to the post.
Lewiston has had a council-manager system for decades, long one of the few adherent to that system in the state, and voters in 2001 rejected a proposal to change it; that proposal was led in part by John Bradbury, now a member of the city council. The complaint was that the unelected manager was effectively setting the agenda for the city, and voters could have a stronger voice with an elected mayor. The argument seems to have gained force, finally winning decisively on Tuesday.
If you look for a through line in Idaho’s elections on Tuesday, you might seize on the idea of voters wanting to ensure they’re being heard and in control. That idea fits the facts, up to a point. There aren’t many other through lines, and even that one is a little shaky.
The second-biggest news from Idaho elections this week may have come from Pocatello, where long-time mayor Brian Blad took the plurality vote but not an outright majority, meaning that he will be thrown into a runoff election - always dangerous for an incumbent. (Ask David Bieter of Boise, a four-term mayor who lost his job in a runoff election last cycle.)
Blad seems to have been the exception, however. Across the municipal line in Chubbuck, Mayor Kevin England easily rebuffed a serious challenge from a city council member. A little to the north, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper sailed to a third term, and three council members were re-elected. The mayor in Idaho’s third-largest city of Nampa, Debbie Kling, was easily re-elected too.
The Boise city election was shaken up structurally this year by outside reasons: a change in state law, requiring districting of council members. But the election didn’t much shake up the council itself, since the two council members seeking re-election were easily re-elected. And while another major-city runoff for mayor did appear - in Caldwell - that will feature two non-incumbents, since long-time mayor Garrett Nancolas is retiring. But even there the probable winner, Jarom Wagoner, has deep background in Caldwell city government.
Coeur d’Alene, which often has seen rough and tumble city elections, saw mostly stability this time. The new mayor - the incumbent was retiring - will be the former mayor of Post Falls, and not likely to mark a major change of direction.
School districts were a little different; a wave of very conservative (anti-masking and culture warrior) candidates were contesting many board seats around Idaho, and they won some of them, but the record was spotty.
Two candidates heavily backed by area Republicans (and featured on a talk show hosted by the state Republican chair) did win the two seats open in the West Ada School District, not a surprise in a heavily Republican area. A group of three culture warriors will take over the Nampa School Board majority.
But the partisans fell short in Caldwell and Kuna. More significantly, a contest in Post Falls that pulled national attention saw the Republican-backed candidate (who, IdahoEdNews reports, “came under scrutiny for his far-right ties and a string of anti-Semitic tweets”) losing by a big margin. Maybe even more significantly than that, in two eastern Idaho races, board members who had joined Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin’s indoctrination task force, in Blackfoot and Sugar-Salem, were buried under landslides.
In many other districts (Coeur d’Alene is a good example), neither side won all the races.
Like I said: Be cautious in drawing too many sweeping conclusions.