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Opinion

Thilo faces many political challenges

We have mixed emotions about the governor’s appointment of Coeur d’Alene community activist Sue Thilo to the Idaho Board of Education.

Certainly, Thilo has a list of accomplishments that made her an attractive candidate for the appointment, from serving as president of the North Idaho College Foundation and spearheading an effort to raise $2 million for the college’s new Health and Sciences Building to helping establish Kootenai Medical Center’s Festival of the Trees. She’s been called the quintessential volunteer. But she’s not Jim Hammond, the Post Falls city administrator whom she’ll replace and a victim of the ambitious Southern Idaho politicians who control Boise.

Hammond deserved to be reappointed by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, particularly since he was in line to become board president. Curiously, the governor reappointed former Pocatello Councilwoman Karen McGee to the board at the same time his office announced Thilo’s selection. McGee had been left dangling with Hammond since her five-year term expired earlier this spring. It’d be nice to know why she was worthy of reappointment when Hammond was handed a booby prize: appointment to the new Charter School Commission.

Politics likely have a lot to do with Hammond’s sorry treatment. Possibly, he was too much of moderate for the highly politicized board’s ambitious conservatives, who regularly undermine the authority of Superintendent of Schools Marilyn Howard, the only Democrat holding statewide office.

Thilo should be careful at all times during future board meetings. She is stepping into a lion’s den where hidden agendas and political aspirations are the norm. She’ll have to be tough to represent North Idaho well.

And that’s what is most troubling about her appointment.

Almost seven years ago, Thilo and another trustee abruptly quit their elected positions on the North Idaho College Board of Trustees a week after voting to depose popular college president Bob Bennett. Although she took part in the unanimous vote, she said at the time that she was resigning to protest Bennett’s ouster. “I’m not a quitter,” she said after handing in her resignation. “I’m also not stupid.

“If I thought I could change things, I’d still be in there working. I hope somebody else can, and I will support them in any way I can.”

North Idaho College politics is little more than a tea party compared with the brand played by the state Board of Education.

During the 2004 session for example, board president Blake Hall, a former Republican state chairman, was sharply questioned by the Joint-Finance Appropriations Committee about the board’s involvement in the University Place scandal that damaged the University of Idaho financially. Also, Hall’s board came under fire from the budget committee for its rift with Howard and for an alternative teacher-certification program that allows some to qualify as teachers solely by tests, rather than by the more traditional classes and student teaching. With the governor’s blessing in 2003, the board also wrestled authority from Howard for dispensing millions of dollars in federal funds.

Hammond had the stomach for the political infighting. It’s to be hoped that Thilo does, too.

 

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