There’s been a lot of chatter today about election results from local elections across Idaho. To put it politely, candidates from the “right” got their butts handed to them. Leftists — and leftist-supported candidates — won city council and school board races statewide. Why? Answers follow:
Local “nonpartisan” races are largely a farce. They’re nonpartisan because the state Legislature says they’re nonpartisan. In other states, it’s easy to tell on which side of the political fence local candidates reside. In Idaho, Boise politicians maintain the fantasy that there’s no political divide when it comes to operating a city or school board. “There’s no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the trash,” is a quote attributed to New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, which manifests itself on local Idaho election ballots. Voters go to the polls, doing their civic duty, and they know almost nothing about who is on the ballot, including political affiliation.
School board elections bring out government school employees. A year ago, voters were motivated to elect candidates based on worries about critical race theory, social-emotional learning, and other leftist indoctrinating programs. It’s still a problem, but voters were less engaged on the issues this time around. Conversely, employees were more motivated to ensure they got what they wanted than non-employee parents and taxpayers. This produced lopsided results almost across the board because a particular voice — school employees — made sure their people won.
Government employees are voters, too, and they’re more likely to vote for leftist candidates. This is particularly true in Boise, where city, school district, Boise State University, and federal employees make up the wider share of the vote than “normie” voters, who may be less inclined to vote in odd-year local elections. This is the problem that plagues other cities across the country, where rural communities remain conservative, but the state governments (think Oregon and Washington, Kentucky, and Virginia) are run by leftists because of government-employee-dominated cities.
These are easy problems to fix.
First, there’s nothing special about city and school elections that makes them nonpartisan. County commissioners are partisan, and they’re performing local government operations the same as schools and cities. Yes, there are decidedly different views on how to “take out the trash” — how much it should cost; whether it should be a private or government function, whether it should be handled by a garbage hauling monopoly or made free-market, how many employees it takes to manage the program, what benefits those employees should get, and so on. To the degree that listing party affiliation on the ballot helps inform voters of the distinction, it is important. The nonpartisan designation of city and school races is a sham.
Second, local elections should be held along with the even-year general elections, when turnout is higher and one group — government employees — doesn’t have an outsized voice. While some jurisdictions see higher turnout than others in odd-year elections, the turnout is still far lower than in a typical even-year general election when members of state legislative, congressional, and, every four years, state offices are up for grabs.
Finally, if one wants to make sure government employees aren’t deciding elections, the most important reform is to make sure government doesn’t grow so damn much. And, importantly, the Legislature and the governor should commit themselves to actually cutting government. There are a lot of other reasons for wanting to cut government, but there is a definite change in election dynamics and outcomes when a larger share of the people casting ballots in an election work in the halls of power.
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