Last Tuesday, Jefferson County (largest city is Rigby) voted whether or not to recall its county prosecutor, Robin Dunn. Out of 3,946 votes cast, a full 81% voted to recall Mr. Dunn. But, he will stay in office because 9,167 votes were needed to throw him out of office.
Also on the same date, School District 93, which serves predominately the east and north side of the Idaho Falls area (including the communities of Ammon, Iona and Ucon) voted for the second time on a school bond, this time for $56.1 million to build a third high school. It failed by only 69 votes out of 7,348 votes cast.
Each is worth briefly detailing.
The Dunn recall was fascinating because it was led by a couple local groups that aggressively contended that Dunn had ill-served the county. He told the Idaho Falls Post Register: “If you’re doing your job as a prosecutor, it’s unlikely that you will make everyone happy, especially after 32 years,”
Jefferson County politics are currently swirling with intrigue. Current Jefferson County Sheriff Blair Olsen is under indictment, because of a request made to the Idaho Attorney General, and some of the same groups involved in the Dunn recall have heavily criticized the county commissioners for some of their actions.
But, supporters had a nearly impossible hurdle to overcome in recalling Dunn. Idaho Code § 34-1712(3) sets the bar extremely high, requiring at least the number of votes in favor of a recall equivalent to those that had previously elected the official subject to the recall. In Dunn’s case, that meant obtaining 9,167 votes, the same number he got in the 2012 election.
That year was a presidential election with Mitt Romney on the ballot, a heavy draw in LDS-heavy Jefferson County. More relevant, Dunn was unopposed on the ballot that year.
Another way of looking at the height of the hurdle facing Dunn’s opponents, in 2014 the Idaho Governor’s race only drew 7,046 voters to the polls in all of Jefferson County or about 60% of registered voters.
To succeed, Mr. Dunn’s opponents needed about 75% of all Jefferson County voters to show up last week and vote in favor of the recall. Frankly, last week’s 32% turnout was pretty impressive, just not sufficient.
Reports are circulating that Dunn may not run for reelection in 2016.
The District 93 school bond election was also interesting to watch. In March of 2014, votes rejected an even larger $92 million proposal to build a new high school and middle school.
Supporters of last week’s bond plan believe that overcrowding mandates a new high school. And, they point out that the bond would only increase property taxes $4.92 a month on $100,000 of assessed value.
Opponents contend that the school district should bond without raising taxes and do upgrades short of building a new school. Opponent Halli Stone told Local News 8: “It [the bond] forces mothers into the workforce. It makes people to sell their home in the district.”
In the end, only 69 votes separated the supporters from a win. What is surprising is that the day after the election, last Wednesday, the District 93 school board voted 4-1 to put the measure back on the ballot this May.
It will be interesting to see if that move lands the supporters the votes they need or if the quick re-balloting backfires. Stay tuned. . .
Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy (www.MaynesTaggart.com). He has an extensive background in politics and public policy.