April 6, 1996 in Nation/World

Candidates Not Showing Up For Party Democrats Apparently Headed For Hills After Republican Tidal Wave Of 1994

By The Spokesman-Review
 

As this year’s election season neared, Kootenai County Democrats thought they’d been infused with healthy new blood.

Instead, they struggled with candidate anemia.

Last week Joshua Buehner, an articulate 18-year-old, filed to run against Republican State Rep. Wayne Meyer. Jeff Coulter, the founder of the Citizens Network for Responsible Growth, planned a campaign against GOP County Commissioner Bob Macdonald.

Both races dissolved in a matter of hours: Buehner wasn’t old enough to run and Coulter feared the “paign” in campaigning. Several other potential candidates never quite emerged.

As Friday’s clock ticked toward 5 p.m. - filing deadline for November’s general election - county party Chairman Bob Brown scrambled to fill vacant slots on the ballot.

In the most prominent local races - for two county commissioner seats - he could field only one candidate: a political unknown with an unlisted phone number.

Republicans, meanwhile, had such a bloated slate that dozens will be battling each other in the May primary.

This, in the population seat of the Panhandle, once considered the state’s Democratic stronghold.

What happened?

Party leaders, former candidates and political watchers say Idaho Democrats were so bruised and battered in 1994’s Republican landslide that many turned away from politics altogether.

Lacking a single rallying issue and combined with four-term Gov. Cecil Andrus’ retirement, the party swoons above the political abyss.

“The party has no star, no one people identify as a figurehead,” said Jim Weatherby, political science professor at Boise State University. “There’s no one to rally the troops, no one to articulate the issues, there’s not even a clear agenda.”

And while no one expects this chronic political disease to worsen, few foresee an early remission.

Since former attorney general and 1994 governor wannabe Larry EchoHawk moved to Utah, “they don’t have any viable stars left on the horizon,” said Florence Heffron, a University of Idaho political scientist.

In 1990, Democrats controlled the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, both congressional seats and half of the state Senate.

The 1994 GOP tidal wave washed out all but one statewide Democratic officeholder - Controller J.D. Williams. The state Legislature was left with eight Democratic senators and 13 representatives. No Idaho Democrat holds a federal office.

Few Democrats suggest the landslide was a reflection of the party’s stance on issues. Most blame an anti-incumbency mood when Democrats ruled Congress and the White House.

“I believe 1994 had very little to do with who we had running or what they did or didn’t do in the campaign,” Brown said. “It rained upon the just and the unjust alike.”

Political watchers agree the doldrums don’t likely demand a political shift.

“It’s not like they should be out-conservativing the conservatives,” Heffron said. “Idaho Democrats are already conservative. They’d just lose what support they have.”

Democrats also admit grave tactical errors. Across the state they could find candidates for only half of their 1994 races.

“We know where the bottom of the barrel is; we’re there now,” said party campaign coordinator Rob Johnson. “This year we’re going to run candidates for at least 85 percent of the seats.”

But in Kootenai County, even that’s been a struggle. Of all the Democrats who lost local races in 1994, only one - Marc McGregor - is willing to try again.

“People are tired,” said Barb Chamberlain, a former representative defeated by Clyde Boatright in 1994. “They remember last time and are still bitter.”

And, unlike in 1990, when Republicans moved to restrict abortion rights, there is no issue for Democrats to rally behind. And many of their potential candidates are single-issue folks.

“Our activists are interested in their issue, whether it’s abortion or the environment or whatever,” Chamberlain said. “We’re losing the generalists.”

In some ways the party’s best hope, locally and statewide, lies with the Republicans, Heffron said.

Last week, Gov. Phil Batt and House Speaker Mike Simpson - both Republicans - said lopsided GOP control in Boise sometimes made for bad laws. That sentiment could bring more voters to the polls, which Heffron said would favor Democrats.

“At this point, I don’t know what else they can do,” she said.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Dearth of Demos One Democrat is running for Kootenai County commissioner. He is: Greg E. Raugust of Coeur d’Alene. Four Republicans are running: Dick Compton, 62, county commissioner, former IBM executive. Bob Macdonald, 55, county commissioner, former beer distributor. Reed Simpson, 54, computer consultant. Ron Rankin, 66, retired, president of Kootenai County Property Owners Assn.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Dearth of Demos One Democrat is running for Kootenai County commissioner. He is: Greg E. Raugust of Coeur d’Alene. Four Republicans are running: Dick Compton, 62, county commissioner, former IBM executive. Bob Macdonald, 55, county commissioner, former beer distributor. Reed Simpson, 54, computer consultant. Ron Rankin, 66, retired, president of Kootenai County Property Owners Assn.

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