On Props 1, 2 and 3, Idaho Republicans misread Idaho

UPDATED, 12:55 p.m., to reflect that Melaleuca was not among Education Voters of Idaho's donors.

By most metrics, Tuesday was a business-as-usual Republican election night in Idaho.

Mitt Romney, an adopted favorite son, ran up 64.5 percent of the vote, up from John McCain’s 61.5 percent four years earlier.

Reps. Raul Labrador (63 percent) and Mike Simpson (65.1 percent) were handily re-elected to Congress.

The legislative races were a wash. When the 2013 session convenes, the GOP will again control 57 of 70 House seats and 28 of 35 Senate seats.

But on the biggest races of the night, Idaho’s Republican machine found itself on the wrong end of a sledgehammer.

Propositions 1, 2 and 3 — the education initative pushed by state schools superintendent Tom Luna, embraced by Gov. Butch Otter and bankrolled to the tune of seven figures by Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot — were swept off the books. The verdict was sound, swift and statewide.

Proposition 1 — the attempt to dismantle the teacher collective-bargaining process — lost handily, in a state that will never be defined as union-friendly. The no vote came in at 57.3 percent.

Proposition 2, the teacher merit-pay law, fared slightly worse, with a no vote of 58 percent.

Voters had particularly little use for Proposition 3, giving the the so-called “laptop law” the landfill treatment. A 66.7 percent supermajority voted no. All told, 429,663 Idahoans voted against Prop 3. By contrast, 417,268 Idahoans voted for Mitt Romney.

What happened?

Many things. And one big thing.

Idaho Republican leaders made one gross miscalculation — one of epic proportions, given their propensity for winning elections and swaying voters.

They framed education “reform” as a partisan issue.

Education is not a partisan issue.

Not in Idaho households.

Not in Idaho classrooms.

Not in Idaho communities.

The more the Republicans tried to paint this as a partisan manner, the more they ran headlong into resistance and resentment.

That’s why the propositions failed so resoundingly. And not just in blue Boise, where the local school board publicly criticized the laws. The laptop law — the one supposed to bridge the technical divide between urban kids and rural kids — lost in every county. Its best showing, relatively speaking, came in Owyhee County, with 44.9 percent.

A thumping this severe doesn’t happen overnight. And the proponents — again, some of the state’s savviest politicos — proved remarkably adept at self-destruction:

• There is, first and foremost, Luna’s bait and switch. Luna can’t reinvent the record, but let’s review it. In the fall of 2010, he sought re-election saying nothing about a structural overhaul of K-12, and spoke instead about finding new funding sources for public schools. In January 2011, he rolled out the Students Come First overhaul, saying it was predicated by the “new normal” of austere budgets. Any talk of fighting for new dollars for K-12 was conspicuous in its absence.

• Supporters overestimated the level of anti-union antipathy in the state. They desperately tried to demonize the teachers’ unions that bankrolled the opposition. They tried to frame 2012 as a sequel to the bitter but ultimately successful 1986 campaign to retain Idaho’s right to work law.
That was almost a generation ago. Voters either have a short memory or a sympathetic view of their local teachers. Or both.

• The eight-year, $180 million laptop contract with Hewlett-Packard, was the political equivalent of a system crash. The deal, announced two weeks before Election Day, shattered any illusions that Prop 3 was a fiscally conservative initiative. The details that inevitably emerged only made the picture worse. Proponents had to defend the indefensible: an eight-year agreement to lease laptops for a steep $1,171 over four years. An ineptly heavy-handed ploy to play the “buy Idaho” card (or, more precisely, the “lease Idaho” card).

• Then there was the saga of Education Voters of Idaho, the purported voice of Idaho parents that was funded by the likes of Albertsons heir Joe Scott, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a host of Idaho business interests. When these mystery donors were revealed, six days before the election, supporters had lost any credible way to criticize opposition fundraising.

So many missteps. And one big misread of the Idaho electorate.

Opponents didn’t win by default. Theirs was a smart, disciplined campaign. On point and on topic. While supporters indulged in union-bashing, the opponents kept their eyes, generally, on the content of the laws.

The question is: What does the No on 1, 2, 3 group do next? I don’t think Tuesday’s vote was a rejection of reform, in any fashion — just a ringing repudiation of Luna’s vision of reform. Even on Prop 3, there is a widespread agreement that technology must a key ingredient in Idaho public schools. Our editorial board interviewed 54 legislative candidates this fall, and from none did I hear a desire to return to the horses-and-bayonets era of education.

How then to bridge the gap? The No on 1, 2, 3 leaders — such as Michael Lanza, Maria Greeley and retiring state Rep. Brian Cronin of Boise — have been handed a great opportunity to bring ideas to the table. They have something Luna and his supporters squandered, through a series of self-inflicted wounds: public backing.

Well Put

Your points seem correct. The other thing I remember is Denny retaliating against anyone in his own ranks who objected and Tom Luna's inappropriate actions at City Club amongst a good list of other things. All that being said, you are absolutely correct in your closing statement. It's time for the IEA and supporters to advocate for better schools. We've let politicians intrude into education for way too long. I think, as a result, teachers have had to sit on the sidelines and just protect their self interest - or, actually, defer to the IEA since they've been put in a corner by politicians. Teachers need to make sure the IEA starts being a voice of meaningful education reform. And yes, that means it is also in the IEA & teacher's best interest to make sure they rid themselves of poor performers. At the sake of having a very long, improperly formatted paragraph.... it is in the teacher's best interest to become an effective voice of education. I know they are improperly paid and it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if they become more vocal on the proper education of our youth, good things will eventually come. Best start now.

we need to print this out

and staple it to our foreheads to remind ourselves of it over the next two years when the attempts will be made to bring this back.

One Thing Is Certain

Parents have sold their children to the socialist union bosses back east. How much did you get for your 10 year old Mrs. Jones? Ah, $15. Is that a good price? Then your 14 year old son must be worth what, about $17.50? Have you considered the white slave market? Arabs are willing to pay top dollar for pre-teens or so the NYT says.

You will reap what you sow.


Parents opposed these laws because of their concern for their children. Just because you don't agree with their vote is no reason to make such insulting comments. It's a shame you have such disrespect for so many parents in this state.


This group was funded by out of state unions. Their only aim was power. It had nothing to do with kids. They said so. So who is being unfair? I suggest the uninformed people who blindly voted without throughly doing their research were inept. Fairness has nothing to do with it. Insulting? Yes. Ignorance and laziness deserves no respect.

I don't care who funded the campaigns, the laws are the same

Whether the campaigns were funded by unions or Bloomberg, the laws were the same.

A few points

It's called a super-majority. You are in the minority, my friend. Parents didn't sell anything away. They took a stand on some pretty bad politically-motivated legislation. Ed reform is good. The Luna Laws were a terrible attempt at such a task.

Secondly, if you honestly believe that the unions are running/ruining schools, you're delusional. Less than 50% of Idaho's teachers are unionized. Unions are weak in Idaho.

Lastly, if you ever have the opportunity, spend a day in a school and observe the type of work that happens on a daily basis. You'd be shocked and impressed. Ed reform is going on right now. It's erroneous to think schools are stuck in some endless status-quo loop. Now, does more need done? Yes.

Thank you for the chuckle.

Thank you for the chuckle. It isn't often that I get treated to dramatic sagas involving white slaves, "Arabs" and child slavery. Here I thought we were discussing an education referendum that got voted down in a republican/conservative state, by many republicans/conservatives.

Wake up.

Yes, Idaho will...a chance

Yes, Idaho will...a chance to have a real conversation with all interested players about education reform. Idaho clearly can distinguish between ramrod politics and what really matters in the future of children.

Let's remember it wasn't just mis-steps...the ideas themselves

were lousy.

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

Interesting enough Clement

Interesting enough Clement Otter refused to accept the vote as the final decision.

“The people have spoken, so I’m not discouraged. That’s how our system works. But it’s important to remember that the public conversation that began almost two years ago isn’t over it’s only begun".

I guess republicans and the conservative taters across our state who put them in office have short memories as the GOP has dominated and controlled all aspect of Idaho government and society for over 3 decades....

Our public education current poor status is a direct result of Idaho republican governance and there conservative policies.

The big picture is clear, as Idahos GOP have been using rhetoric to attack public education and teachers for decades while consistently underfunding public education thru tax cuts and budget reductions to force schools to under perform and thus become self fulling in there demonetization of public eduction.

Idahoans have lost confidence in Superintendent Luna and his ability to work transparently in the best interests of Idaho's children over the interests of outside Idaho money of the conservative political powers who seek to install a for profit private education system.

First order of discussion on public education is Luna's resignation or removal.

Defenders of Luna must be voted out of office.

There is hope

The legislature can take this subject up again and again until the leftists get tired of sucking up to the big shot union bosses for money to fight their battles. This is not over. It is just beginning.


Funny how the union who is there to protect teachers due process is blamed for fighting for them with backing: yet your small mind fails to attack the corporate share holders who dropped a lot of dough on the otherside for what? PROFIT!

Son, you're an idiot

And you just can't fix stupid. Go back to talking Bronco football or something more on your level. Your stereotype-ridden over-generalization of this issue is as embarrassing as the factual errors you claim as truth.

Actually leftists like you

Actually leftists like you who want to suck up my tax dollars with socialist program buying laptops for every child need to quit sucking up to liberals like Bloomberg.

I'm teasing- but oh the irony.

The majority have spoken

Now go climb back in your hole and rest up before you try and shove another corporate driven sham down our throats at the expense of education!


KR, you are correct in your conclusion- the Luna and his supporters squandered the good intentions of 'reform'. Let's see what the "educators" do now.

But you are wrong in your statement of "The legislative races were a wash"--- Not if you are in District 18.

A wash is when losses in one

A wash is when losses in one area are offset by wins in another, which is exactly what happend Tuesday. I am in District 18, and while I am not looking forward to having to deal with baby-face Durst again, I am pleased that his votes will have only a symbolic significance to placate his liberal base.

Just from my perspective, Governor

your "emergency" implementation ended any viable discussion except as it pertained to implementation. Teachers were silenced instantly. Citizens were told it was the law of the land.

Discussions? No, although several discussion groups were formed, their work was altered or ignored. Now is the time for consensus.

Im Republican and so is my wife and we both voted

no's on the props....

My main concern was that they were not very well spelled out....When something is difficult to understand, then I usually vote no....

I would say "expressed

I would say "expressed concerns" might be the biggest understatement of this entire ordeal.

Your second good column in a

Your second good column in a week Kevin. Don't worry, you have not heard the last of Lanza, Greeley, and Cronin.

Didn't the Statesman endorse Prop 2?

How did KR get it so wrong?

anybody that didn't see this vote coming

must have been as blindsided as the arrogant legislatures that cut off and or manipulated the ratio of the testimony of the the thousands of citizens that showed up to be heard and protested on the steps of the capital.

"can you hear me now?"