A tumultuous election in Idaho led to high turnout and strong feelings, but the most-Republican-voting state in the nation was left little changed.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter rallied to win a second four-year term, despite widespread concern about his decision to cut school funding and the failure of the major initiative of his first term, a big investment in the state’s roads.
“We did the right thing in Idaho,” Otter told reporters Tuesday. “We balanced our budget without raising taxes, we made some cuts that were rough to make … but it needed to be done, and we did it.”
The state’s Republican senior senator, Mike Crapo, won overwhelming support for a third Senate term, and the only seat in the state’s congressional delegation that’s held by a Democrat – freshman 1st District congressman Walt Minnick’s seat – was still too close to call Tuesday night.
Minnick had a big financial edge over GOP challenger Raul Labrador, but Labrador said, “I think people this year, more than ever, were looking at the message and not at the money spent.” He noted that while his name recognition at the start of the campaign was very low statewide, by the end it was up to 90 percent – a change he attributes to Minnick’s negative ads against him. “I want to thank him,” Labrador said with a grin.
Minnick said, “We’re now in a very Republican year. … Will people look beyond party label to the policies and background of the candidates as individuals? That’s the issue.
“I’m of course hopeful that they will. We’ll have to see how it turns out. I expect it to be very close.”
Write-in campaigns in Kootenai County – both for a county commission seat and against tax-protesting state Rep. Phil Hart – slowed the returns, though at press time early results showed Hart appeared to have won a fourth term despite the write-in campaign of Hayden businessman Howard Griffiths.
Griffiths, a fellow Republican who announced his write-in run against Hart after news broke last spring that the otherwise unopposed Hart owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, said, “Even if I do lose, this is all from the heart. Hopefully at least the good that I’ve done is to wake up people in District 3.”
Griffiths also said he hoped his candidacy was a “wake-up call” for the local Republican Party. “Don’t take me wrong – they’re not all goofed up,” Griffiths said. “I’ve met some really nice people, and they were supportive, stood up for ethics and stuff like that. But obviously they’ve got a real problem and they’ve got some housekeeping to start thinking about doing.”
As voters went to the polls Tuesday, Hart was preparing for a court fight – he’s appealing a ruling from the state Board of Tax Appeals rejecting his appeal of an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. Hart contends, among other arguments, that income taxes are unconstitutional.
The other North Idaho race affected by heavy absentee voting and write-ins was the contest for Kootenai County commissioner, in which incumbent GOP Commissioner Rick Currie waged a write-in campaign against Jai Nelson, who defeated him in the May GOP primary. The earliest results – just the absentees – showed Nelson defeating Currie.
All Kootenai County election results were delayed, including those for an open legislative seat in District 4 in which Democrat Paula Marano faced Republican Kathy Sims; with just 5 percent of the vote counted, Sims was edging Marano.
The early results also showed Republican Cliff Hayes leading 15-year Democratic County Clerk Dan English; Deputy Coroner Debbie Wilkey leading Chief Deputy Coroner Jody DeLuca Hisson in the coroner’s race; and incumbent Christie Wood and challenger Ron Nilson leading in the races for two seats on the North Idaho College board.
In other Idaho races, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna won a second term, withstanding a challenge from Stan Olson, the just-retired superintendent of the state’s second-largest school district in Boise.