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Voters should 'West Bonner' extremist candidates in November

by JIM JONES / Special to the Herald
| October 19, 2023 1:00 AM

The voters of West Bonner County School District are still working to clean up the wreckage caused to their school system by a board of trustees inspired by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. A low turnout election in 2021 resulted in a three-person school board majority that seemed to be intent on turning the WBCSD schools into right-wing indoctrination mills. Among other things, the board tanked the district’s finances, caused havoc with the schools, and turned a deaf ear to parents’ concerns.

The majority’s worst decision came in June when it voted to appoint Branden Durst as superintendent of schools. Durst was not only unqualified for the position but his main claim to fame was working for the IFF, which is dead set against public education. That fueled a recall election which resulted in the repudiation of the majority. What made this so remarkable is that WBCSD is in a very conservative area. Although he lost statewide in the 2022 GOP primary election for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction, Durst came out way ahead in Bonner County–6,648 votes, which was 50% more than the combined total of his two opponents. Just one year later, after WBCSD voters had gotten an up-close view of Durst, they wanted absolutely nothing to do with him.

Voters across the state should take heed as we approach election day on Nov. 7. There will be school board and city elections in many localities. Candidates with an ideological ax to grind will be running in many of those elections and may win if voters do not inform themselves and turn out to support reasonable, pragmatic candidates.

Voters should find out the elections that will be held in their area and become informed about the candidates in the running. If candidates are endorsed by a political party, be wary of those candidates. School and city elections are nonpartisan. Political parties should butt out. The two recalled WBCSD school board members were endorsed by the local GOP. Since most county GOP committees have been taken over by extremists, the candidates they endorse will be ideologically driven. I find the Ada County GOP voter guide to be helpful in identifying those who should not get elected.

Some letter writers in the October 15 issue of the Idaho Press made noteworthy observations. Invoking the WBCSD debacle, Jim Runsvold urged the re-election of Manuel Godina, Travis Manning and Andrew Butler to the Caldwell School Board. He pointed out that one of the challengers, Nichole Trakel, is endorsed by Moms for America, a Florida dark money outfit that is dedicated to fanning the culture wars.

We probably don’t need help from Florida extremists to educate our kids.

Another writer, Tom Newton, observed that the incumbent “non-partisan” Caldwell School Board members “bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and a positive attitude to the present board.” He questions the wisdom of voting for three partisan challengers who “collectively” push to bring a political agenda to the board. Sounds like the situation confronting WBCSD voters just prior to their low-turnout election in 2022.

Voters should be wary of school district candidates who want to bring religion into the schools, who wish to divert public money to private and parochial schools and who push culture war issues. Keeping them off of the boards in the first place is one heck of a lot cheaper and much less disruptive of school operations than trying to recall them later.

Equally important are the city elections that will soon be upon us. Again, it is critical that voters look into who is running in their locality and check out where they stand on the issues. Letter writer Sandra Haltom says that Meridian mayoral candidate Mike Hon is “not a viable choice,” pointing out that he led the failed charge to “dissolve our library district” and ended up pitting “neighbor against neighbor.” She urges the re-election of Mayor Robert Simison, who has done a fine job of governing that city.

Summing up, people need to get out to vote in these low-turnout, off-year elections. It really matters for these important governmental units that are closest to the people. Even though voters may not think they can make a difference, just look at what happened in WBCSD. The folks in that very conservative part of the state demonstrated that you can be conservative without being into crazy culture war issues. If they can throw the extremists out of WBCSD, it can be done anywhere in the Gem State. Idahoans should “West Bonner” extremist candidates across the state on Nov. 7.

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Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as a Justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017).