Idaho GOP proposes partisan city elections statewide

By Cameron Rasmusson 
Reader Staff

If the Idaho GOP gets its way, statewide residents will be seeing an R or D next to candidate names in city elections.

The Idaho Statesman reports that the party is supporting a push to turn city elections partisan within the state. According to a resolution passed last year by the Idaho Republican Party, the success of left-leaning candidates in Boise city elections and elsewhere are evidence enough that a change is needed.

“Recent victories in the 2017 election by far-left candidates running in conservative legislative districts demonstrate conclusively that the Democrat party is exploiting the non-partisan loophole, taking advantage of low-turnout elections, and deceiving voters,” the GOP resolution reads.

The resolution language echoes statements by Ada County Republican Party Chairman Ryan Davidson, who is heading up the effort to change municipal elections, the Statesman reports. In a YouTube video posted Jan. 1, 2018, he claims the only reason leftist or liberal candidates are successful in Idaho is because they’re able to hide their party affiliation.

“There are certain things on the ballot I find to be a little strange, but they’re never really discussed, because, well, that’s just the way we’ve always done it,” he says in the video.

That’s something that should change, Davidson says, because it’s resulting in a “Democrat takeover” of Idaho cities.

“It’s time to end this nonsense,” he says. “When a tiny minority manipulates an election process to elect candidates whose views bear no resemblance to the majority of voters, they’re essentially stealing elections.”

Both the GOP resolution and Davidson back their argument with a quote from Idaho House minority leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise. Talking with the Idaho Statesman after a Democratic loss of seats in the Idaho Legislature, he said that the party would focus on city elections while looking toward future state races.

“In nonpartisan races, when we’re not saddled with the ‘D,’ when we are able to run on our values, we have tremendous success in elections,” he told the newspaper.

The issue of whether or not local elections should be partisan is a contentious one. A great deal of city council activity involves routine bill paying and decision-making that tends to be more pragmatic than ideological.

However, council members sometimes contemplate proposals and resolutions that break along traditional party lines. Sandpoint, Meridian and other Idaho cities have passed ordinances adding sexual orientation and gender identity to their list of protected classes in anti-discrimination laws, which provoked criticism from the right. And when the Sandpoint City Council considered a resolution expressing a welcoming attitude toward properly-vetted refugees, the public meeting was flooded with conservative individuals who expressed outrage. The backlash led to the council abandoning the resolution.

In his video, Davidson paints municipal governments as wholly ideological. He cites gun control, tax policy, spending decisions, free speech, LGBT issues, environmental regulation and marijuana laws as examples of potential city issues that might be swayed by partisan allegiances.

“City councils are mini legislatures,” he said. “They pass laws and policies, and that will always be governed by ideology.”

While the Idaho GOP support for the proposal carries political weight, it means nothing until a member of the Idaho Legislature introduces it as a bill. No such lawmaker has yet stepped forward, although according to the Idaho Statesman, Davidson believes Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, is a possible candidate.  

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