Conservation: The Bipartisan Issue Driving Idaho's Tightest Elections

"There will be races that come down to the last 100 votes."


Welcome to GOTV week. The letters G-O-T-V are plastered on whiteboards inside campaign war rooms across Idaho, and any candidate who admits to not knowing they mean "Get Out The Vote" does so at his or her own peril. True, early voting has been robust across the Gem State—particularly in Ada County—for nearly three weeks. But election officials statewide have braced themselves for unusually high voter turnout come Tuesday, Nov. 6, particularly for a midterm election.

"It's all hands on deck," said Rialin Flores, program director for Conservation Voters for Idaho. "It's knocking [on] doors, it's mailers, it's digital, it's phone calls, it's answering questions, it's making sure that you're getting what you need. It's all of those things, because I promise you: There will be races that come down to the last 100 votes. Every vote does matter."

CVI, which engages with voters year-round in every corner of Idaho who say they want to "create a political environment to protect the natural environment," hits full stride come election time. By election day, CVI staff and volunteers will have personally engaged with tens of thousands of voters who have yet to cast ballots.

"We do our work totally in a non-partisan way," said Flores. "Obviously, a good many people have come into this election cycle through a partisan lens. But statewide, what we know is that beyond their particular party affiliation, people care about conservation values."

Perhaps most importantly, CVI throws its endorsement and resources to select candidates. This fall, for example, CVI says it's endorsing no less than 30 candidates up and down the ballot, all hopefuls it says are "committed to protecting our lands, clean water and air for future generations."

That said, CVI is not offering its much-coveted endorsement in the state's highest-profile contest: the race between Republican Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and Democratic challenger Paulette Jordan to see who will be Idaho's next governor.

"We're not giving our endorsement to either candidate," CVI Executive Director Courtney Washburn told Boise Weekly. But CVI's lack of endorsement isn't due to indecision. In fact, Washburn said her organization feels anyone would be an improvement over lame duck Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter.

"Honestly, we didn't see the need to endorse [either Little or Jordan]. Both of these candidates reflect a dramatic change from the past. Both Little and Jordan bring their own conservation credentials," she said.

Absent any gubernatorial endorsement, CVI has made endorsements in two dozen Idaho House and Senate races. But Washburn is particularly enthused about a local race, the race for Ada County Commissioner, featuring Democrat Diana Lachiondo's challenge to Republican incumbent Jim Tibbs.

When asked who was the most impressive candidate in the current election cycle, Washburn said, "That's easy. It's Diana Lachiondo."

A fourth-generation Idahoan and director of community partnerships for the City of Boise, Lachiondo is a political newcomer. And she's taking on Tibbs, a 34-year veteran of the Boise Police Department and former member of the Boise City Council now seeking a third term on the Ada County Commission.

"Diana is a fascinating candidate. I think the last time there was a Democrat on the Ada County Commission was several years ago. Diana is running a different campaign and she's not taking anything for granted," said Washburn. "This is not an easy task. Running for office is one part of your political life. Governing is another part of your life, and those skillsets are often not the same. Diana, at least in my opinion, has the full package."

As far as Idaho legislative contests, Washburn said CVI is keeping a very close eye on the contest for Idaho House Seat 26 A, where Republican incumbent Rep. Steven Miller (R-Fairfield) is defending against Democratic challenger Muffy Davis of Sun Valley.

"I'm pretty excited about Muffy Davis. We're hearing that Steve Miller is way out of touch with constituents in the Wood River Valley, particularly on conservation issues," said Washburn. "Turnout in that race will be incredibly important because Miller won that seat by just over 200 votes two years ago. Things like outdoor recreation, public lands, clean water and clean air are the lifeblood of that community ... Keep a close eye on that race on election night."

The real game-changer in this election cycle? That would be the Latinx demographic—the growing number of Idahoans with Hispanic roots.

"That demographic is, undoubtedly, the future. We've brought on board a new voting rights associate, Antonio Hernandez. He's awesome. He'll be responsible for Latinx voter registration and engagement," said Flores.

With so much energy focused on the final days and hours of GOTV, you might assume that Washburn, Flores and their CVI colleagues are due for some rest come Wednesday, Nov. 7. Don't believe it for a second.

"After the election, we shift toward supporting the candidates who have survived the process," said Washburn.

And then there's the looming 2020 election, which will not only see the entire Idaho Legislature, but the White House on the ballot.

"The 2020 election cycle?" Washburn asked. "It feels like it has already started."