Bonner County voters show how to stand up for public education

By Jim Jones
Reader Contributor

Having followed public affairs in the Gem State since 1966, I have always believed that most Idahoans are practical people who appreciate and support reasonable, pragmatic political leaders. They generally can see through those who seek to gain political power by stoking fear and outrage, which is the hallmark of the dark-money supported Idaho Freedom Foundation. Traditional Idahoans are slow to anger; but, when they get their feathers ruffled, they are not reluctant to toss out political charlatans.

And boy did the voters of West Bonner County School District rise up and repudiate the IFF-supported trustees who took over the board in a low-turnout election in 2021. Keith Rutledge and Susan Brown, together with a third IFF-supported trustee, have had WBCSD in turmoil ever since that election. Most notably, they hired Branden Durst, an unqualified IFF henchman, as superintendent of schools. It all came to a head on Aug. 29, when a massive voter turnout recalled those two trustees in a landslide vote exceeding 60%. 

After the election, Durst hatched a scheme to tie the hands of the incoming trustees and save his job. He was taken to court for trying to overturn the will of the voters. The judge correctly saw the scheme as an effort to subvert the law and brought it to an abrupt halt.

The alarm bells at IFF should be ringing, because Idahoans have awakened to the fact that it and its followers have nothing to offer in the way of sound public policy. They thrive on creating conflict and division with non-issues. 

(From left to right): Holly Jepson, class of 2003; Connor Nelson, first grade; and Melissa Nelson, class of 2004, show their support for the Aug. 29 recall election. Courtesy photo.

Idaho teachers are not teaching critical race theory or grooming kids or teaching a “woke” agenda, whatever that is. They are doing their level best to educate our kids, often without adequate resources. That’s just what the teachers were doing at WBCSD before Durst came on the scene.

I’ve spoken with a wide array of traditional Idaho Republicans in the past couple of years about the political trajectory of our state and they are sick at heart with the conflict and turmoil stoked by IFF and its minions. WBCSD patrons took care of addressing that very issue in their school district recall election. 

I am convinced by what I hear from my Republican friends that we will see much of the same reaction across the state in the 2024 elections. A number of disruptive Republicans will be defeated in the primary election by responsible Republicans. And the people will adopt the Open Primaries Initiative (OPI) in the general election as a permanent means for ridding Idaho of IFF’s hard-edged, non-productive style of politics.

There will be a furious fight over the initiative in the coming month because IFF’s big guns, Brent Regan of Coeur d’Alene and Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls, know it will destroy the iron grip they have on the extremist branch of the Idaho Republican Party. 

As Smith said in Idaho Falls on Aug. 23, “If Idaho gets ranked-choice voting, we’re finished. It’s that simple.”

The OPI will hit the IFF and its minions much like the WBCSD voters hit the IFF trustees in the recent election.

One of the reasons the extremists have not been dealt with already is that many Idahoans have had an inflated view of their numbers. They are much louder and more in your face than the majority of Idahoans. Plus, they seem to have an element of menace about them that causes sensible, conflict-averse folks to hunker down. The WBCSD election revealed that even in a conservative community, the reasonable folks greatly outnumber the conflict-minded. 

People across the state should take heart that they can stand up, speak out and vote the disrupters out of office, replacing them with officials who will deal with the real problems facing the state and its communities. 

We all owe the good folks of West Bonner a heap of thanks for showing us the way.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is a regular contributor to The Hill online news. His columns are collected at

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