Vote Smarter

Robert Reich/YouTube
What would happen if everyone voted? Heather McGhee, of Demos, looks at what would happen if everyone in the U.S. voted.

Look Beyond Labels
It is increasingly difficult to parse the political stance of most politicians based solely upon whether their name on the ballot is followed by an R or a D. And it is even more tricky to weigh whether a candidate’s position on issues is reflected in relation to official party platforms, or platform differences at the local, state, or national levels. While we should know by now that politicians can be economical with the truth in their campaign rhetoric (on both sides), it’s even more difficult to determine whether they would feel bound by what they say while campaigning upon taking office.
Perhaps the most stark – or most egregious -- example of that can be seen in the campaign and tenure, so far, of Donald J. Trump as president. In the running assessment of Trump’s campaign statements in relation to what he has or has not achieved since taking office in January 2017, Pulitzer-winning Politifact is among the research-oriented media organizations that find his record is, at best, not very good. Specifically, just 5 percent of Trump’s statements have been determined by Politifact to be true, while 55 percent are rated false or mostly false, and 14 percent were outright “Pants on Fire” lies.
To be sure, most of Trump’s performance in office has been a work in progress. But many of the most significant promises he made have either been broken, reversed, or stalled by court actions or Congress. Similarly disappointing assessments have come from research by the Washington Post, NPR, ABC News, and BBC, among others.
America has gone through bouts of skepticism, if not outright cynicism, about politics many times over our history. The post-Nixon years in particular were a watershed for the way journalists approached “official” Washington. Whereas John F. Kennedy pretty much got a pass on most of his often very public affairs, Bill Clinton was impeached for less. But the disconnect between Trump’s public statements and Twitter rants and reality and demonstrable, documented fact is so vast, it is difficult to understand why or how down-ticket candidates self-identifying as Republicans claim to “stand with President Trump,” especially in Idaho, for example, where voters in the 2016 presidential primary preferred Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas by 45.4 percent of the vote, against 28.1 percent who voted for Trump. Trump went on to draw nearly 60 percent of the Idaho vote in the fall of 2016 for no logical reason beyond the fact he ran as a Republican. By March this year, ahead of the May primary, as Trump was sinking in most nationwide polls, Idaho gave him a 52 percent rating, according to the results of a 50-state poll by Morning Consult. His success rate, in terms of GOP candidates he has endorsed winning their primaries, has been mixed.
While Trump’s “Donald Trump in 2020” pep rally tour has made more than a dozen whistle stops so far this year, the overtly pro-Trump element in Idaho politics has generally been muted since the May primary.
Among signs of the changing political mood since 2016 was the dramatic increase in voter registrations ahead of the state’s May primary, and an accompanying increase in the number of votes cast in the Democratic primary, even with registered Republicans outnumbering Democrats in the state by nearly four-to-one.
In the past decade, the two political parties have struggled to define themselves, at the state level as well as nationally. The old notions of "liberal" and "conservative" no longer apply. After struggling within their own ranks, especially since the 2016 election, Idaho’s Democrats and Republicans have distinctive party platforms that list things they support.
The Idaho Republican Party platform is here.
The Idaho Democratic Party platform is here.

Rexburg Standard Journal photo

Weighing the Candidates
Deciding which candidate to vote for is one of the most important choices we make as citizens in a democracy, and one of the most challenging. Choosing a supermarket or an automobile, are far less complicated. We shop at the store that is most convenient, with the best variety, quality, and prices. We pick the car that has the best curb appeal, and by such data-driven factors as fuel efficiency, accessories, warranty terms, and price. Candidates don’t come with buyer-satisfaction insurance, return policies, or mileage and emissions tests. If you don’t like it, you’re pretty much stuck with it at least until the next election cycle. Fortunately, there are some Internet tools voters can use that make the candidate-selection process a little less daunting, and we provide some of the best of those tools here. To show how they are used, we looked at the candidates for Idaho governor, and the candidates for the Idaho congressional delegation, for the House of Representatives. (Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who has served since 1998, was re-elected in 2016. His term ends in 2021. His colleague, Sen. Jim Risch, was appointed in 2007 and first elected in 2008, to serve a term that expires in 2021.) In the profiles that follow, we include links to the tools available to find biographical details, relevant personal, professional, and political experience, positions on issues, endorsements, sources of campaign funding, and, for those who have held public office, voting records.
Idaho is one of 26 "trifecta" states, in which the governor's office, the state Senate, and he state House of Representatives are all Republican-led. Idaho's four-member congressional delegation is also Republican.
Before shopping for the best candidate, consider the responsibilities of the office being contested. At the top of the Idaho state races is the governor’s office. Idaho is one of 36 states that will elect governors in November, and one of 26 where the office is currently Republican. The duties of the Idaho governor's office are outlined here. While the governor is essentially the state’s chief executive, the governor’s ability to control policy outcomes is constrained by the legislative branch, and limits on veto power. Governors traditionally present a policy roadmap at the start of each legislative session, aiming to guide legislative priorities. Lawmakers, however, tend to go their own way.
In November, Three-term incumbent Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s seat is being contested by Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the Republican candidate, and Rep. Paulette Jordan (5A-Plummer), the Democrat candidate (Otter has endorsed Little. Jordan resigned her seat in the Legislature in February to run for governor).
It is most useful to see how these two candidates for governor compare in terms of such valid and objective “sales points” as relevant personal and professional experience, education, performance record, and stated positions on issues. While things like “curb appeal” are more difficult to quantify, factors such as values and ethics, while also highly subjective, may be useful. But running for governor is not (or shouldn’t be) a beauty pageant or a popularity contest. These considerations also apply to most other down-ticket candidates.
Interesting tidbits invariably emerge during a campaign (Little was reported to have personal assets valued between $12 million and $24 million. Jordan, who is 6 feet tall, declined a basketball scholarship at Washington State University.), they are very rarely pertinent to the candidates’ qualifications for office. In this race, there are some exceptional factors. For example, Idaho is the nation’s fastest growing state, with about 1.7 million people, more women than men, and an average age range in the mid-30s. With those shifting demographics, Idaho’s 20-year habit of electing older white men with some political experience to the governor’s office approaches the November poll with a candidate who is a working mom, and a Native American, citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and former member of its Tribal Council, and former officer in the National Indian Gaming Association. As such, her gender and ethnicity are pertinent to this gubernatorial campaign.
Political analysts, who generally pay less attention to off-year elections that usually draw fewer voters than presidential campaigns, are watching 2018 races more closely. In Idaho, too, where voters have chosen Republican-dominated candidates by hefty margins since 1994, this year could be different. In addition to their experience in Idaho state government, both candidates were born in the Gem State, both have solid backgrounds in farming and agriculture, and relevant experience in business, and they both own guns and ride horses.
Their education (Little received his BS in agribusiness from the University of Idaho in 1971. Jordan received a BA in communications, comparative literature, and Indian Studies from Washington State University in 2003, a 2015 Executive Certificate in Energy Policy Planning and Development from the University of Idaho, and a postgraduate certificate in strategic negotiations and conflict resolution in 2016 from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government) and respective backgrounds in farming and ranching and business management can be regarded as pertinent, since a significant portion of Idaho’s economy is related to agriculture and food products, and because local business growth is an increasingly important factor in the state’s continued growth.
Both candidates are parents (Little has five children and Jordan has two), which could be relevant, especially in relation to their views about education in Idaho, which ranks 48th in the nation in quality and dead last in per-pupil spending, especially on such factors as teacher salaries and retention incentives, and how the state’s sparsely populated rural school districts finance public education overall. The Little campaign’s positions are outlined here. The Jordan campaign’s positions are outlined here.

Tools for Smart Voters
Here are examples of how some of the tools for smart voters can be used for digging deeper into candidate suitability.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brad Little
Little, 64, from Emmett, owns Little Enterprises, Inc., a farming and cattle operation, and former chairman of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. He is also a director of Boise-based Home Federal Bank, and the Boise-based office products maker Performance Design Inc. He has been active in organizations promoting sheep raising, real estate, and agriculture. Before becoming lieutenant-governor, Little was a state senator from District 11 from May 2001 to 2009. He graduated from the University of Idaho in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in agribusiness.

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan
Jordan, 38, is a citizen of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, a past officer in the Tribal Council, and an active participant in tribal policymaking and Native American issues. Native Americans account for more than 21,400 of Idaho’s white-dominated 1.7 million population. Native Americans in Idaho also live in poverty at nearly twice the rate as whites. Having grown up on a bluegrass farm near the small town of Hayden, in a part of the state where about 40 percent of the population lives at or below the poverty line, she is intimately familiar with factors that affect family income stability and economic issues, such as tax policy and job training. Her background in business consulting for entrepreneurship is relevant to policies involving small business.
Of the two ballot referendum questions (Proposition 1, the “Authorize Betting on Historical Horse Races Initiative,” and Proposition 2, the “Medicaid Expansion Initiative.” The candidates’ positions in May, when signatures were being solicited, were reported in Idaho Politics Weekly this way:
“Jordan has unabashedly embraced the {Medicaid expansion) measure. … Little has stated that he’ll follow the decision of the voters.” On the horserace gambling issue, the publication reported, “Brad Little has indicated he favors the initiative. But, Little needs to do well in East Idaho. LDS legislators from the area, such as Sen. Brett Hill and former Sen. Bart Davis, were drivers of the bill to ban. If he is too vocal on the issue, he may turn off the Mormon Republicans who gave their votes to Tommy Ahlquist in the primary. Ironically, Ahlquist had the same position as Little on the issue. Paulette Jordan voted to ban horse gambling in 2015. She’ll certainly feel the pressure from the tribes on the issue. Might she want to use the issue as reach-out to Idaho’s conservative voters?”
Perhaps the biggest challenge the candidates face, other than clarity on their policy positions, is that of reaching as many voters as possible before Nov. 6. Idaho’s 1.7 million residents are, with a few exceptions, spread over more than 83,500 square miles, with just a dozen cities claiming populations of 20,000 or more. Breaking out at an average of 19 people per square mile, that much open space makes clear how difficult it is for candidates seeking statewide offices to reach voters with their message. For the primary race alone, Little reported raising a total of $1.3 million, including $800,000 of his own money, while Jordan took in $393,440. Proof that money doesn’t necessarily equate to victory, however, emerged in the post-primary financial filings that showed Tommy Ahlquist, Little’s chief GOP rival, took in nearly $2.2 million, while A.J. Balukoff, Jordan’s Democrat opponent, had a war chest of about the same amount, most of it his own money. Most of the money spent between now and election day will go to advertising, particularly on television and social media. Some examples of what that money buys are included with the candidate profiles below.

Brad Little for Governor/YouTube
This 30-second video was produced in January for the Brad Little campaign.

Brad Little
Brad Little is the Republican candidate for governor. This year, being a lieutenant-governor has been much less of a factor. Information he provides about himself is on his campaign Website at The site includes links to his campaign’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
Little’s Ballotpedia profile page is here.
Little’s positions are outlined here.
Little’s Vote Smart political summary is here.
Little’s Wikipedia page is here.
Little’s LinkdIn profile page is here.

Jordan for Governor/YouTube
This 30-second video was produced in May for the Paulette Jordan campaign.

Paulete Jordan
Paulette Jordan is the Democrat candidate for governor. New polling shows her moving closer to Brad Little in the race. Information she provides about herself is on her campaign Website at The site includes links to her campaign’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.
Jordan’s Ballotpedia profile page is here.
Jordan’s positions are outlined here.
Jordan’s Vote Smart political summary is here.
Jordan’s Wikipedia page is here.
Jordan’s LinkedIn profile page is here.

Links to more tools for measuring candidates and examples of how to use them are here.

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