The First Rule of Politics: Define your opponent before he defines himself.
Legislative District 19 Endorsements: Yes to Erpelding, No to Gudgell
Idaho's District 19 is comprised of Boise's north and east ends, the old neighborhoods of the capitol city with quaint tree lined boulevards, small cottage like houses mixed in with relatively new foothills and riverside development. The biggest issues here are education, quality of life, and whether deer and fox are considered pests or amenities. It's a mixture of Idaho's young urban tech crowd and relatively affluent middle class families. And judging from home sale prices, a highly desirable place to live. Its also what I refer to as Idaho's Democratic ghetto, in that its the rare place in the state where Democrats are so highly concentrated. A Democratic candidate from 19 can get 60% of the vote in the general election merely by turning left at its myriad stop signs. As a result it's the district in Idaho where an Idaho legislator can most proudly and loudly demonstrate how progressive policies can be popular politics without fear of political/ideological retribution at the polls.
This year all three seats are open and as expected District 19 has a wealth of of riches in qualified candidates, with one exception. Representative Cheri Buckner Webb chose to advance (unopposed) to the senate seat being vacated by Nicole LeFavour who surprised many by leaving her safe seat to attempt to dislodge Congressman Mike Simpson. In State Representative, Position A, Mat Erpelding, Tony Rohn, and Dallas Gudgell have filed, and are actively running campaigns. In State Representative, Position B, Brad Goodsell, Holli High Woodings, and Andy C. Edstram have filed, but Mr. Edstram is making no pretense at a campaign and I have seen nothing to speak for his candidacy.
With the exception of Andy and Dallas I have personally spoken to each of these candidates. I have also listened to each of their interviews, including Dallas', with the Idaho Statesman editorial board. The board recently made endorsements to which I don't necessarily disagree. But their recommendations come with a dearth of analysis and a Republican perspective. The Board consists of editor Kevin Richert, former Republican representative Hal Bunderson, Republican operative Lindy High, and former IACI head Steve Ahrens. As a result the Statesman endorsements didn't come with the best interests of Idaho Democrats in mind. The purpose of this post is not to replace their analysis, neither is it an ideology purity test, but to broaden the perspective and allow the Democratic voters in 19 to make an informed choice on Tuesday.
State Representative, Position A
I will start by giving the easy choice first and my main impetus for analyzing this race, Dallas Gudgell's unfortunate interview with the Statesman editorial board. I did not reach out to Dallas to explain because I deemed this interview disqualifying for an Idaho Democratic candidate on its face, let alone a candidate from District 19. Mr. Gudgell was asked whether he would vote in favor of the referendum repealing the Luna laws. After replying that he had anticipated the question and was ready for it, he said that there was enough good in the legislation that he would vote NO. For him to say so displays remarkable ignornace of the facts set forth in these two articles. Gudgell further stated unequivocally that he would have voted in favor of the failed legislation to bust the caps on charter schools, which many believe sucks public funding away from public schools. Dallas is a charter school employee. These statements contradict his website and his subsequent comments on facebook. Yet his interview responses on health insurance exchanges, tax policy, environmental issues and even his own endorsements were muddled, to the point of being incomprehensible, evincing a lack of informed clarity one would expect from a representative in a safe Democratic district. He is not only the wrong leader for Democrats, he is not prepared for prime time. I am surprised at the endorsements on his web page.
And while that choice was easy the next is difficult. Mat Erpelding and Troy Rohn are both excellent candidates who conjure that perennial desire in District 19 Democratic voters to be able to farm our candidates out to other districts where fielding candidates proves so difficult. Indeed its the desire to grow the party that edges me towards Mat Erpelding (erp'-ul-ding).
Troy Rohn is bright, intelligent, knowledgeable, rooted in the community and is passionate about his causes. Mat Erpelding is a political animal. Mat is as tenacious as he is relentless in his causes. Mat lives and breathes politics, and attributes much of his motivation towards activism from the railroading of the Luna legislation through the statehouse which directly affects his vocation of education. He sees politics as pieces on a chess board, knows the opposition's strengths and weaknesses, and how to maneuver legislation. And he's strongly motivated not only to be effective, but also recognizes that he needs skill and organization to mobilize the rest of the state to achieve our common goals. When I asked retiring Representative Brian Cronin about Mat, he said:
He follows through like few people I know. Many people have approached me over the years and offered to help/get involved. Often times, such people have fallen through the cracks simply because I haven't had the time to plug people in, train and support them, and figure out a situation that works for everyone. More often than not, I never hear from them again. Mat was relentless in pursuing me. He kept insisting that we talk and meet. He would call, email, send smoke signals--you name it. He insisted that he could be of assistance and that we wanted to get his feet wet. I finally said, "OK, you wanna do something? Help me draft a package of economic development bills that we're calling IJOBs." And you know what? He did. And he did a great job.
This isn't an endorsement so much as it is a prediction. Mat wants it. Mat has the single minded intensity that enabled him to summit Denali twice in one season. While Democrats have some fine legislators, we have precious few political tacticians, with knowledge of the legislative rules, the players, the forces manipulating the players with the ability to work the game to be able to achieve their constituents' objectives. For Mat many of these skills appear innate, but his volunteer time also give him the edge on legislative experience despite his relative youth. And if there's one thing Democrats need is young skillful leadership in a party whose banquets tend to be more solemn than they are celebratory.
State Representative, Position B
Again a difficult choice. Brad Goodsell is experienced, knowledgeable of the administrative process, knows PERSI cold, and counts all three of his grown kids as potential constituents and therefore rooted in the community. Brad grew up in Boise, attended Borah High School before going on to an undergraduate degree at BYU. After getting his law degree at Idaho, Goodsell practiced law in Boise with the attorney general's office and is proud of working to get Attorney General Lawrence Wasden elected. But he says the Republican party has moved away from him, and is running as a Democrat. He has worked as a precinct captain and paid some dues to Democrats in 19. He is solid on the issues. He recently opened a private practice in Boise's north end. Brad has a cool deliberate demeanor, somewhat aloof, but which could be perceived as arrogant.
Holli High Woodings is the President of the North End Neighborhood Association, long considered a stepping stone to higher political office in Boise. Ms. Woodings is a 2007 BSU graduate in English. Holli runs a public relations business focused on growing Idaho’s clean energy organizations through relationship building and collaboration building off her employment with a wind energy development company upon graduation. Holli is green, both in her views on energy, and in realizing her political ambitions. While she says the right things on the issues, the question remains whether she has the legislative experience and political acumen necessary to drive her projects from printed legislation to the governor's desk. But elections are the proving ground for politics, and if she mobilizes through the successful projects with which she's associated, she can prove herself a worthy representative for District 19. She has demonstrated the drive, enthusiasm and ambition.
This race is very difficult. What Brad has in experience, knowledge and salt, Holli has in organization, motivation and charm. After talking to several Democratic insiders I'm satisfied with Brad's Democratic bona fides and would consider him an asset. But by the same token, Holli is more intimately involved with political consensus from the grass roots level. Brad's knowledge and experience would likely be more effective, to the degree anyone from 19 can be in a crimson red legislature. But Holli would be more likely to champion a progressive policy and to build the political power necessary to push it forward. And so I make no endorsement here leaving it to good people of 19 to determine whether they want the representative who will be effective voice for Democrats immediately over investing in the long term prospects of a candidate with potential. Either would accomplish the goal of party building, albeit in different ways.
Whichever candidate the people of 19 choose, I will get behind them. Again the purpose of this post is to encourage the people of 19 to make an informed choice on Tuesday.