Political jabs are pretty much the order of the day through much of October. Charges and countercharges fly with greater intensity in the weeks and days leading up to the first Tuesday in November.
But more than a few attendees were jolted awake Oct. 18 when verbal sparks flew at a pre-dawn candidate forum--and Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or the Luna Laws weren't mentioned once. Instead, the unexpected barbs pierced a gathering of candidates running for the Ada County Highway District Commission.
"I think ACHD has a bully issue," said candidate John Carver, running in ACHD District 2. "I watched audience members scolded, ignored and bullied at an ACHD meeting."
But District 2 incumbent Rebecca Arnold, who also serves as commission president, was having none of it.
"I'm offended by that," said Arnold. "[Carver] has been to one meeting. One of the commissioners was expressing his opinion. It's unreasonable and ridiculous to keep someone from expressing their opinion, as long as they're not being vulgar and abusive."
And as much as candidates in ACHD District 1 wanted to move on, Carver and Arnold continued to swap barbs.
"I chastised Rebecca because she's the president of the board," said Carver, insisting that Arnold should have curbed the remarks of her fellow board member.
"It's not my job to squelch freedom of speech," she responded.
"I was personally embarrassed at the one meeting I attended," Carver shot back.
"If two people never disagree, they're probably not talking with one another," said Arnold.
The other three candidates--ACHD District No. 1 commissioner Carol McKee and her challengers Jim Hansen and Neil Piispanen--quietly watched Arnold and Carver's verbal jousting. But when asked what their priorities would be in serving on a board that oversees more than 300 employees and more than 2,000 lane miles throughout Ada County, McKee warned attendees that the department would "hit a wall" by 2014 because of much-needed maintenance and new equipment.
"Plus, storm water is a major issue for ACHD," said McKee. "Right now, storm water mitigation continues to rob ACHD of 30 percent of the price of every one of our projects. We need to go to the Idaho Legislature and ask them to name an agency to manage this issue and, more important, to help pay for it."
Hansen knows a thing or two about the Legislature, having served three terms at the Statehouse.
"We need to build more accountability to the public," said Hansen. "In particular, we need to be improving ACHD's relationship with the City of Boise. We shouldn't be waiting for agencies or municipalities to ask us for something. We should already know about things through constant communications."
Unfortunately, Piispanen had a communication problem of his own at the candidate forum. With few exceptions, most of his answers were difficult to hear due to the low volume of his voice. When an overhead fan turned on in the lower conference room of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, it was impossible to make out any of what Piispanen said.
Arnold didn't have a problem being heard (nor did the other candidates). When asked about why she should be re-elected to another term, Arnold said she "liked to get things done."
"But I don't think this is something you dabble in when you're in retirement," she said, tossing a final dig toward her opponent.
Carver, who is retired, quoted Rodney King, victim of police brutality in Los Angeles in 1991.
"Can't we all get along?" asked Carver.