Forgive us for those occasional trangressions when we residents of Lewiston, Moscow, Orofino, Grangeville or Kamiah cast a covetous glance at the prosperity, opportunities and influence enjoyed by the people of the Treasure Valley.
Last week was not among them, however.
Who would trade places with the voters of Boise and Caldwell as they trod to the polls to decide election contests that should have been settled four weeks earlier?
In Boise’s runoff mayoral election, challenger Lauren McLean once again bested incumbent Dave Bieter by a margin of 65.5 percent to 34.5 percent. Back on Nov. 5, in a six-way race that also featured former Mayor Brent Coles and Ada County Highway District Commission President Rebecca Arnold, McLean claimed 45.7 percent of the vote compared to 30.3 percent for Bieter.
Over in Caldwell, disgraced former state Sen. John McGee took a step toward reviving his political career by claiming a city council seat with 60.73 percent of the vote in a runoff election with Evangeline Beechler who got 39.27 percent. In November, it had been a three-way election with McGee winning 39.2 percent, Beechler getting 30.6 percent and Charles “Chuck” Stadick carrying 30.2 percent.
Consider yourselves fortunate.
This runoff only works in a head-to-head election. Both Lewiston and Moscow, for instance, elect their councilors at large. Last month, the top three vote-getters in each city won office.
Nowhere in north central Idaho will you find this kind of folly.
Only nine communities have authorized runoff elections whenever a candidate for mayor and/or city council fails to win an outright majority. Besides Boise and Caldwell, these include American Falls, Blackfoot, Eagle, Idaho Falls, Mountain Home and Spirit Lake.
Talk about a waste of time. While everybody else was preparing for Thanksgiving, these towns got wrapped up in another volley of campaigning. Yet, virtually every time voters have gone through this exercise, they have ratified their choice in the first election. One exception occurred in the 2007 Eagle mayoral election when Phil Bandy, who trailed Saundra McDavid by 331 votes in a four-way race, flipped the results in a runoff, winning by a margin of 253 votes.
Much more common was the experience of Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, who two years ago won 46.4 percent of the vote in a five-way race. Four weeks later in a runoff against then-Councilor Barbara Ehardt, Casper cinched re-election with 61 percent.
Talk about a waste of money — it costs tax dollars to hold a special election, to say nothing of the funds raised and spent on another round of campaign advertisements.
And what does this accomplish?
With another four weeks to go, runoff candidates usually have few alternatives to turning up the heat and going negative. Bieter pursued a scorched earth policy against McLean. McGee injected party politics into a nonpartisan race by lining up Republican endorsements and highlighting his opponent’s role as chairwoman of the Idaho Democratic Party. Two years ago, Casper had to endure a barrage of “Anybody but Casper for Idaho Falls Mayor” advertising sponsored by Republican operatives Doyle Beck and Bryan Smith as well as Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot.
Besides, if there’s a place that warrants a runoff election, why not try Idaho Politics Weekly columnist Steve Taggart’s idea? How about a runoff for the Idaho Republican primary election?
Often, that’s where a candidate can secure the GOP nomination by the thinnest of margins in a crowded contest and then sail toward eventual election over some luckless Democrat in the fall.
l The 2006 campaign for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District — State Rep. Bill Sali of Kuna won the nomination with 25.8 percent of the vote in a six-way race, followed by former Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez with 18.5 percent and former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen of Boise with 18.3 percent.
l The 2014 race for state superintendent of public instruction — Because four candidates split the vote, Sherri Ybarra got the win with 28.7 percent compared to 24.5 percent for Randy Jensen of American Falls.
l Last year’s contest for lieutenant governor — In a field of five, 28.9 percent was good enough to hand the nomination to former state Rep. Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls over former state GOP Chairman Steve Yates, also of Idaho Falls, with 27.3 percent.
If the mandate of a majority vote is so vital to the health of Idaho’s democracy, why should a handful of cities have all the fun? — M.T.