Guest column: The winds of change?

Could the results of recent voting in Idaho Falls suggest the ultra conservative right wing is losing its grip on Bonneville County politics? ask Jerry and Carrie Scheid.

Jerry: What do you think about the Idaho Falls Mayoral election?

Carrie: I’m so glad it’s over. Mayor Casper won with a decisive 60.8 percent. You gotta wonder if it’s worth the time and expense of having a run-off when the winner was the same in both races.

Jerry: Were you surprised by the results?

Carrie: Not at all. If you look at local elections this year, there appears to be strong support for moderate candidates and issues.

Jerry: Really?

Carrie: Look at the May Community College election. 71.4 percent of the voters in Bonneville County said “Yes” to a community college. That’s huge! Twenty five years ago, only 34 percent was in favor.

Jerry: Hmm…You may be onto something. In the November City Council elections, moderate candidates won all three seats.

Carrie: The Dan Beck vs. Jim Freeman race for City Council is especially revealing. Mr. Beck was the favorite of the ultra right wing Bonneville County Republican Central Committee. His opponent Jim Freeman campaigned as a moderate and won with 63 percent of the vote. The right wing got trounced.

Jerry: Wait a minute. What about the District 91 school bond? It didn’t pass.

Carrie: That’s because it needed a super majority vote. But a majority of voters (58 percent) voted yes. I suspect school officials will rework it and come back again next year.

Jerry: Will that be enough? Won’t the right wing folks campaign against it?

Carrie: Of course. But their influence is waning. During the Mayoral campaign, their leaders created a PAC called “Businesses for Growth.” It was funded mostly by companies associated with Bonneville County Republican Central Committee former Chair Doyle Beck, 1st Vice Chair Bryan Smith and, of course, Frank VanderSloot, Idaho’s richest citizen, according to Forbes. The PAC’s front man is the Central Committee’s Third Vice Chair Adam Frugoli. They raised over $39,000 to pay for negative attack ads but lost big.

Jerry: Their negative campaigning really backfired. It doesn’t work well in local elections where it’s your friends, neighbors and business associates running for office.

Carrie: That’s one reason the Central Committee’s influence is declining in local elections. It’s hard to put your trust in party leaders whose campaign tactics misrepresent facts and distort the truth. It turns people off.

Jerry: I think their shift to extreme right politics is also marginalizing them. According to the Post Register, Stafford Smith, the Central Committee’s Legislative Chair for District 33, recently hosted a program at Smith Chevrolet whose main speaker was on a statewide tour organized by the radical John Birch Society.

Carrie: The John Birch Society? Aren’t they the fringe group that promoted conspiracy theories about a Communist takeover of the United States?

Jerry: Yup. Now that the Communists are old news, they have latched onto a new “Agenda 21” conspiracy theory in which a United Nations is engaged in a sinister plot to destroy American sovereignty, abolish private property, and…well, you get the idea.

Carrie: It appears the Central Committee leaders relish conspiracy theories. In 2016, Doyle Beck and Bryan Smith claimed a “secret society” had been formed to vote them out of their leadership positions.

Jerry: I recall they went to court to require depositions of other GOP leaders to unmask the perpetrators. Ultimately, the judge said no.

Carrie: Allow me to share some words of wisdom I learned years ago. “Never assume conspiracy for what stupidity can explain!”

Jerry is a retired farmer/rancher and native Idahoan. Carrie is a retired nonprofit administrator. They live in Idaho Falls.