Something was missing last week as Idaho voters elected new leadership for their cities and school boards.
It was the Republican or Democratic party label.
Voters didn’t mind. They can review issues and the candidates without resorting to partisan politics.
Neither did the candidates. Making that first foray into elective politics is tough enough without getting bogged down by loyalty oaths.
And it’s good for the cities and schools, too. There’s a reason Idaho keeps partisan politics out of these local elections. There is no GOP way to fix a pothole or operate a sewage plant; there is no Democratic way to pass a school bond or recruit a new superintendent.
It’s not as if Republican or Democratic party platforms spend a lot of time on matters of concern to city councils and schools boards. They devote their energies on what the Legislature, governor, Congress and the White House are doing.
But what’s good for Idaho’s cities, schools and the people they serve is not former Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador’s concern.
Now chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, Labrador served up this litmus test:
“I am pleased to let you know that our party staff has researched the party affiliation of candidates running for city and school district races,” he wrote. “They will gladly provide that to you. To request the information, please reply to this email with your name and address, including COUNTY of residence.
“For too long, Democrats have been sneaking into important positions of power by running in nonpartisan offices like those on your ballot tomorrow. It is tremendously important that Republicans turn out and elect conservatives who believe in accountability, lower taxes and less spending. ...
“If you find this information provided to you valuable, consider making a small contribution to support funding the staff of your Idaho Republican Party. Every dollar greatly helps.”
The nonpartisan system was never entirely pure. It’s no secret that Boise Mayor David Bieter served as a Democratic state legislator or that Lewiston City Councilor-elect John Bradbury ran as a Democrat for the state Legislature. But candidates for city or school office who had never dabbled with Republican or Democratic politics were under no obligation to declare an allegiance to one party or the other.
How could Labrador’s team research the affiliation of candidates who don’t wish to share it?
There’s a list.
About eight years ago, Labrador and others were angling to close the GOP primary election to anyone unwilling to register as a Republican. The stated reason was to stop Democrats from crossing over and making mischief in the other party’s primary.
But throughout the years this idea was debated in Idaho, a second rationale was offered: It would provide the GOP with an easily obtained, up-to-date database of people who registered as members of the Republican Party.
Registering to vote is a public act and a matter of public record.
That’s why some people refused to vote in the GOP primary. Judges or even legislative staffers, for instance, must maintain the appearance of impartiality. (Idaho’s judiciary, by the way, also is elected in nonpartisan elections.) So they accept the idea of being disenfranchised from what is often the only election that counts in Idaho’s one-party system.
They had ample warning. After the first closed GOP primary, a group of non-Republicans who voted in the GOP primary were outed. People, such as former state Sen. Kermit Kiebert, D-Hope, who had been appointed to Democratic or non-Republican seats on state boards and commissions had to explain why they signed up as GOP primary voters.
Turning the tables on experienced politicians whose party preference qualified them for an appointment is one thing. Imposing a litmus test on people running in nonpartisan elections is entirely different.
Granted, Labrador did not say how his team got the information. But if they’re not using the voter registration lists, they’re working too hard.
This is not out of character for the diehard ideologues running the GOP. They want to subject their own Republican candidates to a loyalty oath. This small core of activists and party loyalists has gained a disproportionate say over who serves in the Legislature, the governor’s office, the congressional delegation and courthouses thanks to one-party rule.
And if Labrador has his way, they are about to extend their reach to your city halls and schools. — M.T.