Conventional wisdom and history
On occasion there are quirks of history one should pay attention to because they are accurate predictors of the future even in the face of conventional wisdom. For example, virtually every political pundit in Idaho takes it as a given that whoever wins the Republican gubernatorial primary next May is a lock to become Idaho’s governor in January 2019.
Probably so, but maybe not. There is an historical factoid that says otherwise. In modern times the Idaho governorship has changed party hands every 24 years twice in a row. In 1946, C.A. “Doc” Robins, a state senator from Benewah County and a medical doctor, defeated incumbent Democrat Gov. Arnold Williams. This began a string of Republican governors in Idaho for 24 years.
The string ended in 1970 when the Democrat state senator from Nez Perce County, Cecil Andrus, defeated incumbent Don Samuelson. This began another string of 24 years in which Andrus and his successor, John Evans, a former state senator from Oneida County, held the governorship.
In 1994, with the victory of Republican Phil Batt, a former state senator from Canyon County, the governor’s chair again changed hands after 24 years. If history is an accurate guide this should tell the pundits two things: Idaho’s next governor will be a Democrat and a former state senator.
There’s the rub, one might say. There is no such politician on the horizon. Au contraire. There is a former Democrat state senator from Latah County, Dan Schmidt, who also is a medical doctor, and is reportedly seriously considering entering the gubernatorial race.
On the basis of history alone, Democrats should encourage him to run. Set aside the fact that he is extremely competent and established a reputation for doing his homework and was especially knowledgable on health care issues during his six years in the Legislature. He knows the issues and he knows the state.
He also reportedly believes a contested race for governor among Democrats will keep Democrats home and minimize the tendency of some to register as Republicans for the primary because of the mistaken belief that is where the action will be and will determine who the next governor is.
Reliable sources report Schmidt has already talked to A.J. Balukoff, the Boise businessman and the Democrat’s gubernatorial nominee in 2014 who spent $3.5 million of his own money in a losing race to incumbent Gov. C.L.”Butch” Otter. Balukoff is set to announce he is again seeking the office in early October. Schmidt may surprise and announce his candidacy in September.
Of all the candidates running for governor, Schmidt will have the least resources. He is not personally wealthy like Balukoff or Republicans Tommy Ahlquist or Lt. Gov. Brad Little. Nor does he have a government job like Rep. Raul Labrador that pays him while he is seeking another office.
None of them will outwork him and he believes the fact that he is not trying to start at the top and buy the office will work to his advantage. He also believes Republicans will nominate First District Congressman Labrador as their nominee. He sees Labrador as far and away the most conservative of the Republicans, but thinks many in the GOP are tired of tea party conservatives and some of the extreme views they hold.
He reportedly believes he can capture these disenfranchised Republicans and that he will also be more attractive to independents than will Balukoff. Furthermore, Schmidt reportedly says one should not underestimate the ability of Labrador to show his lack compassion for the needy, the homeless and those he would kick off medicaid.
In other words, Schmidt thinks the Democratic nomination for governor is well worth pursuing because Labrador is quite capable of losing the race. Is history on Dan Schmidt’s side? Time will tell, but it just might be.
A native of Kellogg, journalist Chris Carlson pens his column from his retirement home near Medimont in Northern Idaho. He is a former teacher and was press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus.