First District Judge John T. Mitchell looked tired and a little nervous after the polls closed Tuesday evening. He said he’d feel better once he saw some numbers.
And he did.
Mitchell, 47, easily defeated opponent Rami Amaro Tuesday by winning two-thirds of the vote in Kootenai County. He won in Shoshone and Boundary counties and was leading by a large margin in Bonner and Benewah counties.
“I’m just really proud of the North Idaho voters to show that they weren’t persuaded by the attack ads and the false statements and all the advertising,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people have worked very hard to support me and that’s very much appreciated.”
Amaro said even though she didn’t succeed in her attempt to replace Mitchell, she didn’t think the effort was a complete failure.
“I’m pretty excited I can get a third of the votes,” the 37-year-old Coeur d’Alene attorney said. “I’m not a good old boy, I’m not an incumbent judge, and I’m not a man.”
She said a third of the votes in her favor means a third of the citizens “have made the decision he needs to be removed from the bench. That’s a serious statement.”
The Mitchell-Amaro race was one of the most talked about and contentious races on the primary ballot. On Election Day, the intense interest in the judicial race was evident in the number of sign-waving supporters on street corners.
Amaro herself spent the day at different locations along Northwest Boulevard and at Fourth and Appleway. She said she was surprised by the number of people who stopped to talk to her.
“They were either stopping to say, ‘Hey, I voted for you,’ or stopping to say, ‘Why should I vote for you?’” Amaro said. She said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
Her husband, Lance Amaro, spent most of the day at the bustling intersection of Highway 95 and Appleway.
Duane Rasmussen stood right next to him holding a larger Mitchell campaign sign.
Tuesday evening, a sunburned Rasmussen and other Mitchell supporters packed the bar at Cricket’s in downtown Coeur d’Alene.
Boundary County Prosecutor Jack Douglas said he felt Mitchell ran a “people campaign” and not a “billboard campaign” like Amaro.
He said Mitchell spent a lot of time visiting with voters and speaking to groups throughout the district.
Douglas predicted Mitchell would win in his county and the four others in the district.
Mitchell, who was appointed district judge 4 ½ years ago, was the only judge in the district and one of only two district judges in the state to face opposition.
All five district judges in the 1st District and 29 district judges statewide were up for re-election.
Though only a handful of candidates statewide were willing to take on a sitting judge in Tuesday’s election, nine people applied last week for a newly created judgeship in the 1st District.
Amaro said she believed the willingness of attorneys to seek an appointment rather that go through an election shows the system is “set up to protect incumbents.”
“For an attorney to stand up against an incumbent is a huge deal,” she said. “You subject yourself to retribution, not only from that judge but from other judges. Attorneys are afraid.”
Amaro said she now understands why people find it intimidating to run against a judge. Despite Tuesday’s loss, she said, she’s glad she did.