By Zach Hagadone and Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Midterms often draw fewer voters than presidential elections, but a few big-ticket ballot items brought citizens to the polls in unusual numbers.
Most of the up-ballot races played out as expected: Republican Gov. Brad Little retained his seat, longtime Republican lawmaker and Speaker of the House Scotte Bedke won the race for lieutenant governor, Republican U.S. Reps. Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson held onto their positions, as did Republican Sen. Mike Crapo.
Former-Idaho Republican Congressman and failed 2020 gubernatorial candidate Raul Labrador will be the new Idaho attorney general come January, Debbie Critchfield will be the superintendent of public instruction and Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane will be secretary of state.
Meanwhile, Idaho residents will be governed by a much more conservative Legislature when it gavels into session in January, with scores of hard-right candidates gaining office either through redistricting, retirement of incumbents or primary wins. And the Legislature will all but certainly meet more regularly than its customary three-month session, with the passage of SJR 102, the constitutional amendment allowing legislators to call themselves into a special session without the governor’s approval. That measure squeaked by Idaho voters, 52.03% to 48%.
Idahoans also expressed their approval of the “advisory question” on whether to spend $410 million each year on education funding — though it came with political baggage.
As statewide media reported earlier this year, Reclaim Idaho’s education initiative passed — including tax increases to high-earning individuals and corporations — but Idaho lawmakers, including the governor, fronted another plan in the the latter days of the special session in September to fund education without Reclaim’s pinch on big pockets.
Specific to voters in the Sandpoint city limits, the ballot question as to whether the city should increase its tourist lodging tax from 7% to 14% and extend it to 2035 passed on a margin of 65% in favor to 35% against.
Among the most interesting races in the state was between Republican nominee Scott Herndon, who defeated two-term incumbent District 1 Republican Sen. Jim Woodward in the May GOP primary, and independent write-in candidate Steve Johnson.
Johnson had previously been in the election cycle as a Democratic challenger to District 1A Republican House candidate Mark Sauter, but dropped out of that race and changed his party affiliation to independent in order to oppose Herndon in the general election. Sauter, unopposed, drew 18,434 — the highest number of votes of any candidate in District 1. The next nearest was incumbent Republican 1B Rep. Sage Dixon, who drew 17,501 votes.
The only contested race in the district was Herndon vs. Johnson, with Herndon earning 13,064 votes to Johnson’s 9,025.
According to Bonner County Clerk Mike Rosedale, local turnout in the Nov. 8 election exceeded 66% and, with the write-in candidacy of Johnson, stretched the counting process until around 6 a.m. on Nov. 9.
“All my poll workers were commenting on how big [the turnout] was,” Rosedale said.
Herndon had strong support in Boundary Country, with 3,239 votes to Johnson’s 1,616 — with Herndon winning by more than 50%. In Bonner County, however, Herndon drew 9,825 votes to Johnson’s 7,409 — a margin of about 25%, marking a huge showing for a write-in candidate.
Rosedale was nothing short of impressed with the outcome of the contest for the District 1 Idaho Senate seat.
“This is the most effective write-in race I have ever seen. Kudos to Steve Johnson for the campaign he did,” Rosedale told the Reader. “It was phenomenal. He did the best example of a write-in campaign I’ve ever seen. … It’s an uphill battle for a write-in candidate.”
Rosedale said his office, with the help of a bipartisan adjudication team, began individually analyzing and either accepting or denying write-in votes at 8 p.m., as soon as polls closed. The last of those ballots weren’t processed until 6 a.m.
Over those 10 hours, “the massive lionshare” of write-ins were votes for Steve Johnson in the senate race — 99%, Rosedale estimated. He said that maybe two or three votes went uncounted due to write-in illegibility; but, for the most part, the adjudication team found itself in agreement.
“We have to just be able to discern the intent of the voter,” he said. “If we can’t discern the intent, then we can’t count them. They have to have parts of the first name and last name. It doesn’t have to be spelled perfectly or right or anything like that, but it can’t be ‘Scott Johnson,’ or ‘Steve Herndon.’”
Initial results, stemming from early and absentee voting, showed Johnson with a considerable lead.
“I think the biggest shocker was the degree of the whipsaw from early voting and absentee to the Election Day [voting] at the polls,” Rosedale said. “Steve Johnson had it two-to-one, and then [Herndon] came back.”
That was the mood at Idaho Pour Authority on Nov. 8, where Johnson met with about 60 of his supporters, who drifted in and out of the popular bottle shop, sharing hugs, handshakes and congratulations for what they considered a nervous but hopeful effort.
“This is really something,” Johnson told the crowd on election night, adding with visible emotion that he was “humbled” by the work of volunteer campaign workers and affirming his “faith in the future.”
“Much love to you all,” he said. “You can’t begin to describe the creativity, passion and energy that has gone into this campaign. …
“If we haven’t come out a winner in this campaign, then at least we have made a difference.”
On the morning of Nov. 9, Johnson shared his concession message with the Reader:
“My Congratulations to Scott Herndon for winning the state Senate seat for District 1.
My sincere Thank You to the 9,025 people who voted for me. That is the largest number of votes a write-in candidate has ever received in District 1. My sincere Thank You to the hundreds of volunteers who spent many hours working throughout Bonner and Boundary counties. My sincere Thank You to our amazing campaign team — local, extremely talented and all-volunteer.
We will continue to work for balance and stability in the community we all love. We are not going anywhere. We will monitor Mr. Herndon’s behaviors.
“It is my fervent hope that Mr. Herndon will rise to the occasion and replace his personal agenda with a commitment to honorably represent all the citizens of Idaho.”
Herndon, in his post-election statement Nov. 9, told the Reader: “The results from the election are in. We have secured the District 1 Idaho State Senate seat and will take office in three short weeks. Thank you to those who voted for me, volunteered for the campaign and donated over the last 18-month effort.
“Democrats, Republicans and those of other parties will find me easy to work with and eager to represent their constitutional and other necessary interests.
“Even before becoming a legislator, I have been able to write two bills that have passed the Idaho Legislature with unanimous, bipartisan support. It is my objective to be an effective legislator for the needs of Boundary and Bonner counties.
“If you know anyone in the district who needs to contact me, they can always reach me at 208-610-2680.”
Herndon added: “In other good news, the constitutional amendment SJR 102 is on track to succeed. This will provide the people needed representation should it ever be required in times of urgency.”
Dixon did not provide a post-election statement by press time.
“I’m humbled by the support of our district, excited about the upcoming legislative session and committed to doing the work,” Sauter told the Reader.
In Bonner County, all five positions up for election saw unopposed Republican candidates, including incumbents Rosedale — who will continue serving as Bonner County Clerk — and Robert Beers, who was re-elected as coroner.
“First, I want to thank the citizens of Bonner County who came out to vote regardless of party affiliation,” Beers told the Reader. “Second, a special thank you to all of those who took the time to check the box next to my name. It is an honor and privilege to serve you for (Lord willing) another four years.”
Continuing in a familiar role will be Bonner County Treasurer Clorissa Koster, who was appointed to the position in May after it was vacated by Cheryl Piehl.
“I would like to thank all those who got out and voted in this Election and I thank you and truly appreciate all those who chose to vote for me,” she said. “I look forward to serving all Bonner County citizens as your Bonner County treasurer and my office is here to serve all of you. My door is always open and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or concerns.”
Bonner County will have a new assessor in the new year: Grant Dorman, who successfully challenged fellow Republican Donna Gow in the primary.
“Thank you Bonner County for your support in my race for county assessor! Property valuations, taxes and DMV services are important to all of us, so it is not a responsibility to be taken lightly,” he said. “I am humbled and honored to serve the community in this capacity and look forward to working with all to provide a smooth transition on Jan. 9.”
Luke Omodt will fill the District 3 commissioner’s seat in January, replacing Dan McDonald, who did not run for a third term.
“Thank you to my family, supporters and donors,” Omodt said. “Bonner County is home. My priorities are to complete and adhere to the Comprehensive Plan update, improve relations between all of the elected officials in our county, and work to improve infrastructure and public safety. Our success has brought with it new challenges that are going to require new solutions and civility to protect, maintain and improve our quality of life for all of Bonner County. Hold me accountable. Thank you.”
District 2 Commissioner-elect Asia Williams, who beat out incumbent Jeff Connolly in the GOP primary, did not respond to a request for comment before press time.
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