The election is two weeks away and yet we'd bet money that most of the people out there don't even know who's running for the top state offices.
This being Idaho, the assumption is that anyone with an R behind their name will get elected. That's probably true but not necessarily a good thing. Here and there, the occasional D (or even an I) on somebody's ballot might actually be a better choice. The point is, no party has a monopoly on good candidates who would serve the voters well. There are eagles in both major parties -- and each has more than their share of turkeys, as well.
Voting is not only a right, it is also a duty and with that comes a responsibility to know who you're voting for.
For Republicans, it's been an interesting year, what with the fratricidal bloodbath at the state convention and the odd scandal here and there garnering a fair amount of press, plus it's getting a little tough to keep running against the government when they've been the government for such a long time in Idaho. Democrats on the other hand, to paraphrase the late Will Rogers, are just "not members of any organized political party" in Idaho. Their candidates pretty much stand alone with a pathetic party structure behind them.
Let's look at some key races (note that all the incumbents are Republicans -- Idaho is considered the most Republican state in the nation and sometimes, because of that, we get taken for granted).
Seeking to represent Idaho at the federal level is incumbent U.S. senator Jim Risch, who is being challenged by Democrat Nels Mitchell. Risch is cagey, crafty and experienced at the game and has made a lifetime of government service by constantly running against the government. Mitchell, like almost all the Democratic candidates, is essentially unknown in Idaho politics. During the debates last week, Risch stressed that he had become very, very conservative, while Mitchell came off as the typical moderate Democrat. Most of the time he actually held his own against the skilled debater that Risch is, which was sort of a surprise. Essentially, this race boils down to a Republican who allies himself with the Tea Party, and a Democrat -- who doesn't.
One of the few Democratic names with any recognition is Dick Stallings, who once served Idaho in the U.S. House of Representatives in the Second Congressional District seat currently held by long-time incumbent Mike Simpson. Mike is finally moving into the higher power structure of the Republican Party and if re-elected stands to make Idaho's voice a little louder than it's been in years, but he's pretty much hated by the Tea Party wing of the GOP for his moderate conservative views.
Both are good men who have always put Idaho first in their government service. Our long-time respect and support for the common-sense Simpson is well known, but if you're a Democrat, this is the first time in a long time you've had a candidate in the Second Congressional District genuinely worth voting for.
For governor, you have two-term incumbent C.L. Butch Otter facing off against Democrat A.J. Balukoff.
There actually are four other candidates for governor on the ballot, Libertarian John Bujak, independents Jill Humble and Pro Life (yes, that's his legal name now), and Constitutionalist Steve Pankey, plus five guys we know absolutely nothing about who filed as write-ins at the last minute, Walt Bayes, Marcus Bradley Ellis, Paul Venable, Kurt M. Wertzbaugher, and Larry Allen White. Those nine stand no chance against the other two.
The real race is between Otter and Balukoff. Both candidates have run some positive ads about themselves and some negative ads about their opponents, with Otter's probably the nastier of the two (he called Balukoff someone who'd be perfect for California! In Idaho, that's the equivalent of calling someone a really dirty name).
Otter has been in Idaho politics for decades and is well known for his positions, his triumphs and his failures. Balukoff is a successful businessman and a former school board member, but relatively unknown statewide until this year. They're both smart men who have researched and thought out their positions. Balukoff is almost certain to be at odds with the Idaho Legislature from Day 1 if he were elected, but Butch hasn't always had smooth sailing getting his ideas through that less than stellar body, either, and he's not a favorite of the Tea Party, where some of the voters may wander over to the candidates for the Libertarian and Constitutionalist parties. Butch normally wins by large margins. Our guess is his victory will be narrower than normal this year.
For lieutenant governor, you have incumbent Brad Little facing off against Democrat Bert Marley and Constitutionalist David Hartigan. In this case, vote for the same party as the guy you voted for in the governor's race.
For secretary of state, for the first time in many people's memory -- in some cases their lifetime -- a Basque will not hold this office now that Ben Ysursa is retired. Ben's preferred candidate didn't make it through the GOP primary. Running on the Republican ticket is legislator Lawrence Denny. He's opposed by Democrat Holli Woodings. She's run hard for the job while Denny hasn't run at all -- literally. The last sunshine report showed he hadn't spent a dime since the primary on any form of advertising. He's apparently counting on the R behind his name as all he needs to win the job, which is a little arrogant, or at least complacent, if you think about it. On the other hand, both of the candidates looked good and competent in their debate.
For state treasurer, Democrat Deborah Silver has run an aggressive campaign against incumbent Ron Crane, using the legislative audit report that was highly critical of Crane's investment policies (it claimed he cost the state at least $10 million) as the basis for her seeking approval from the voters. Crane's R will probably be enough. He's rejected the audit's conclusions, but he's clearly, on paper, the most vulnerable Republican candidate at the state level.
For attorney general, Democrat Bruce Bistline is running against incumbent Lawrence Wasden. Bistline might be competent, but Wasden's done a good job for the state, especially in consumer protection issues.
For superintendent of public instruction, Tom Luna's retirement (in the face of widespread criticism) has opened the door to a new face. Democrat Jana Jones, whose previous campaign for the job nearly beat Luna, is offering herself to the voters again, this time against Republican Sherri Ybarra. Sherri, who's a newcomer to politics, has stumbled a few times in her campaign, but she's a local girl that we know well and have come to admire and respect during her years in the Mountain Home School District. She's sharp, has innovative ideas and, most importantly, has a proven track record that she can develop programs that teach kids to read.
Being able to read and write is kind of important in today's world (unless you want to run for the legislature where being educated apparently isn't important at all).
At the local level, the only contested races are for the legislative House seats from District 23.
Incumbent Rich Wills didn't respond to our questionnaire, but he's well known and liked in the area. While he's never going to rise to the top GOP leadership, he's a moderately conservative Republican who will probably trounce Democratic challenger Mary Ann Richards, a neophyte to politics (obviously, based on her responses to our questions), simply because he has an R behind his name.
The other contested legislative post is held by long-time incumbent Pete Nielsen, a strong Tea Party Republican, who also has spent a career in government running against the government. He's being challenged by Democrat Spike Ericson, who offered perhaps the most thoughtful responses to our questions (but is clearly a Democrat, which means he probably won't get out of the starting blocks in the race). Independent candidate C.J. Nesmeth also is challenging Nielsen. As a bail bondsman, she'd be a perfect resource for those legislators that get arrested during the session.
There's also a somewhat obscure constitutional amendment on the ballot that seeks to set in stone something that's already a part of statutory law (and probably should stay there), as well as some judicial races where it's almost impossible to tell who's the better candidate (good luck).
Overall, it's not the sort of ballot line-up that draws large numbers of voters to the polls, but it's still important that you vote. Every vote counts and every vote is ultimately heard, if for no other reason than it demonstrates which of the positions that candidates represent are preferred by the voters, something even the guy you voted against has to take into consideration if he wins.
-- Kelly Everitt