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The good, the bad and the ugly

Last Tuesday's election can best be described with the title of a Clint Eastwood film: It was about the good, the bad and the ugly.

I'll start with the bad.

Immediately after the primary, the self-proclaimed Idaho Freedom Foundation boasted that the election was “historic” and concluded, “Idaho has spoken.” In some ways, the Freedom Foundation was right—in others, it was completely wrong.

Yes, the election was historic in the number of thoughtful, courageous and dedicated legislators who were defeated. Even one of IFF's biggest opponents, longtime President pro Tempore Chuck Winder, lost, making him possibly the first Senate leader to lose to a member of his own party. Winder, a fixture in Idaho politics, lost to a far-right candidate who grew up in California and moved to Idaho six years ago with no significant public service experience.

But the IFF is completely wrong when it says “Idaho has spoken.” Only 24 percent of the one million registered voters exercised their most important right and duty. It was one of the lowest voter turnouts in the primaries in recent years.

It is extremely difficult to describe an election as a mandate for the extreme policies of the Idaho Freedom Foundation when, in a state of two million people, 75 percent of registered voters did not cast their ballots.

Now for the ugly part.

Another point that calls into question the credibility of the Idaho Freedom Foundation's claim is the amount of money that out-of-state billionaires and their front organizations have invested to poison our election with their lies, distortions and vitriol.

The Dallas-based American Federation for Children and the Ohio-based Citizens Alliance each invested $400,000 in the election, excluding information from post-election coverage. Virginia-based Make Liberty Win, which is affiliated with Texas-based Young Americans for Liberty, contributed $656,000.

Even Idaho Secretary of State Phil McCrane took notice of this flow of money from other states: “We have never seen such an influx of foreign money,” he said.

These out-of-state groups didn't invest $1.5 million because they love our state and its citizens. They invested that money because they want to destroy our public schools and use taxpayers' hard-earned money to fund private and religious schools. Even though they won't pay a single cent to support those private and religious schools if voucher-like legislation is passed.

Thanks to them, the chances of a farmer in Kimberly, a logger in St. Maries, a rancher in Challis and a single mother in Nampa have been greatly improved, with their tax dollars subsidizing private and religious school tuition for people who have never sent their children to public school.

Rep. Wendy Horman, the chief architect of Idaho's voucher-like legislation, said after the vote: “School choice is not a fringe Republican issue. This issue is at the center of the electorate,” she told Idaho Ed News.

Really? How can Horman say that when 75 percent of Idaho's registered voters didn't vote, and when dark money groups from other states have attacked incumbents on culture war issues like banning books rather than on their votes against vouchers?

Now for the good.

Horman also finds it difficult to make the argument that support for education vouchers is a mandate from voters after Idahoans overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to increase funding for public schools by $110 million.

In total, voters approved 35 of 45 supplemental levies. Seven bonds passed by a margin of 70 percent or more in rural communities such as Salmon, Cottonwood and Cambridge. In Clearwater County, voters saved two schools from closing by passing a $5.8 million supplemental levy. In West Ada, voters approved a $27.7 million levy to hire 152 additional teachers and school police officers.

This overwhelming support from ordinary Idahoans for their community schools contradicts the rhetoric of education voucher advocates and billionaire-funded privatization front organizations who claim that people are unhappy with their schools.

In addition, several voucher opponents and candidates won on Tuesday, including Reps. Stephanie Mickelsen, Lori McCann, Mark Sauter, Rich Cheatum, Jeff Cornilles and Dan Garner. In the Panhandle, former Sen. James Woodward, who voted against vouchers two years ago, defeated one of the most vocal voucher supporters, Scott Herndon.

In fact, in the 32nd District, voucher opponent Stephanie Mickelsen received 60 percent of the vote in a three-candidate primary, while voucher proponent Horman received 45 percent of the vote in a three-way race. 32nd District Senator Kevin Cook, who also opposes voucher legislation, received 69 percent of the vote in his race. These results hardly suggest a mandate to privatize our schools.

Another “good” result of Tuesday's election was the ousting of the far-right in the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee. Now the true conservative Republicans control that landmark central committee, and that could be a game-changer for Republican Party leader Dorothy Moon when the convention is held next month.

Still, there is no reason to celebrate the election. Far too many good people lost their seats on Tuesday. And it looks like both the House and the Senate will move even further to the right in the 2025 legislative session.

Many of the losers, such as House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie Yamamoto, who has been the target of many ugly and misleading attacks from other states opposed to school privatization, knew they would be targeted for their opposition to school privatization. But they stood firm, did what was right for Idaho students, and paid the political price. They were examples of courage.

Education vouchers will not be the only issue on the agenda of the next far-right legislature. Much of the progress we have made in education over the past decade will likely be on their hit list.

In its post-election boast, the Freedom Foundation announced it would eliminate the popular Idaho Launch program, which gives thousands of high school graduates a path to graduate school so they can earn credentials for good, family-supporting careers. More than 14,000 Idaho high school graduates who graduated this spring applied for the Launch scholarships.

Since when is it a radical idea to help our young citizens achieve the American dream and become productive citizens? Radical is an extremist group like the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the dark money groups from other states that want to destroy the public education system while controlling the lives of Idaho citizens in the name of freedom.

Writer Wallace Stegner once said that the West is the “home of hope.” After Tuesday, many have given up hope that Idaho politics will ever come to its senses. But hope must be kept alive, or we will abandon our great state to political extremists and their benefactors from other states.

Anna Harden

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