Those poor Idaho Republicans.
They’re not used to getting crazy outspent in a high-profile election. That happens to other people. (I’m looking at you, Idaho Democrats.)
But I must give those poor, destitute, desperate Idaho Republicans their due. Faced with a rare opportunity to play the woe-is-us angle, they rallied nicely and almost seemed to savor the moment.
Funded almost exclusively by national and state teachers’ unions, Vote No on Proposition 1, 2, 3 raised $1.38 million through Sept. 30. The groups pushing to uphold Students Come First, state Superintendent Tom Luna’s K-12 overhaul, reported a combined $501,000.
And so, on Thursday, the supporters went into victim mode.
Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot — one of the deepest pockets supporting Students Come First — vowed to dig deeper. Gov. Butch Otter attached his name to a particularly breathless news release quote, conjuring memories of Idaho’s bitter right-to-work election of 1986.
“Big Labor has been targeting Idaho for decades, since our voters rejected union scare tactics and enacted our right to work law,” said Otter. “I trust the people of Idaho — our own school patrons, parents and community leaders — to do the right thing and once again reject union scare tactics from these checkbook bullies.”
Hold tight to your milk money. The checkbook bullies are coming to the schoolyard.
Hyperbole aside, the proponents scored a good tactical point. For every 3 cents individual donors have put into the opposition kitty, the unions kicked in 97. For all practical purposes, this is a union campaign — and when Students Come First supporters paint it as such, they aren’t stretching the truth in the slightest. Given Idaho voters’ skepticism about unions — illustrated by the decisive right-to-work vote — this is a drum supporters can pound relentlessly until Nov. 6.
But neither is it a stretch to paint the pro-Students Come First campaign as a subsidiary of the GOP. By my count, 23 sitting legislators, all Republicans, contributed to Yes for Idaho Education, the leading group supporting the laws. Reliably Republican Melaleuca kicked in $50,000, Coeur d’Alene-based Hagedone Hospitality added $15,000 and the Idaho GOP contributed $10,000.
Based on what we now know from the sunshine reports, voters can decide who they trust: the teachers’ unions seeking to stop these laws, or the Republicans who helped push this plan into law in the first place.
Then again, there’s only so much we know about the money race. We know that Parents for Education Reform, the group directed by former legislator and longtime Otter ally Debbie Field, received $200,350 from an unidentified source or sources that gave to Education Voters of Idaho.
This mystery group remains a contentious matter. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says the donors must identify themselves. Spokesman John Foster says Education Voters of Idaho is a nonprofit group not subject to disclosure laws.
An aside: With this, Foster cements his place as one of the most enigmatic figures in Idaho politics. First, the former state Democratic Party executive director and Walt Minnick aide aligned with the GOP side on Students Come First. Second, Foster is now an advocate for shy campaign donors — even though the former journalist has lobbied on behalf of the Idaho Press Club, and normally is on the side of the angels on matters of transparency.
Whatever becomes of the disputed Education Voters of Idaho donation — and Foster says the spending is on hold — let’s put things in perspective.
• While the fundraising gap is huge, cash on hand is almost a dead heat. Yes for Idaho Education reports $52,179.13, No on Propositions 1, 2, 3 reports $54,176.31. If you feel like you’ve been inundated by ads blasting Students Come First, there’s a good reason: Opponents raised, and spent, a ton of loot.
• More importantly, there’s still a long way to go in the dash for cash. Watch for the next fundraising report, due one week before the election. That will tell a lot about how the unions and Idaho Republican donors respond to this week’s news.
It may have seemed like Students Come First supporters were in a panic Thursday. If so, it was premeditated panic — fully aimed at getting supporters to step up and pay up between now and Election Day.
Republicans may be unfamiliar with playing the role of the underfunded underdog. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing.