Energy issues made a difference in county commissioner races, but not the Idaho Legislature.
Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman’s support for Dynamis Energy’s waste-to-power project helped David Case win in the Republican primary Tuesday. Meanwhile Washington County incumbents Michael Hopkins and Dave Springer were knocked off by Tom Anderson and Kirk Chandler in Washington County following passage of an ordinance regulating the new natural gas industry.
The ordinance became the center of a statewide debate over state versus local control on energy issues. Washington County officials pressed for more power for counties to regulate where natural gas drilling and access roads would be built.
In the end, the Idaho Legislature approved a new oil and gas regulation law that left ultimate authority in the hands of the state, nullifying the Washington County ordinance.
Republican Rep. Judy Boyle, who defeated Washington County Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jeri Soulier in Tuesday's legislative primary, said Washington County voters rejected the commissioners and helped re-elect her because they want more jobs, which they hope will come from natural gas drilling, exploration and production.
“They did send a message and we got our message out: Do you want more government or do you want more freedom?” Boyle said.
Boyle, of Midvale, and Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, sponsored the oil and gas law. Pearce defeated Parma lawyer Matthew Faulks, who also had made local control and the gas law an issue in Tuesday's primary.
Soulier had supporters going door to door in Payette and Weiser and she campaigned hard, she said.
“I know we did all we could do,” Soulier said. “We didn’t have any big money.”
She said political action committees funded independent flyers, robo-calls and other communications against her and Faulks. Pearce, like Boyle, said voters sent a strong message of support for the gas industry and he dismissed the impact of independent spending.
“I think people support developing our natural resources,” Pearce said.
In Ullman’s case, she spent much of the campaign defending the $2 million spent by Ada County for Dynamis’ plans. Many of the anti-government opponents of the project viewed it as a green energy producer supported by corporate welfare.
Ullman won her seat on the commission running as a political outsider critical of county spending.
“She sort of became the kind of person she ran against,” said John Freemuth, a Boise State University political science professor who is the senior fellow at the Andrus Center for Public Policy.
The low turnout in Ada County clearly had an impact, he said, but Ullman did not pick up votes from renewable energy supporters, perhaps because she did not make the case for those benefits, he said.