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Low Turnout Mars Primary Elections Results for Education Allies

May 24, 2024

Tuesday’s primary elections were marked by important victories and hard defeats for pro-public education candidates and the issues dear to Idaho Education Association members.

While the true impact the election will have on education policy in Idaho won’t be clear until the newly-elected Idaho Legislature returns to Boise in January, there’s little question the results will shift the dynamics of education politics in the Statehouse.

“Tuesday’s results were a disappointment for IEA members, but there were also important bright spots that we can learn from,” said IEA President Layne McInelly. “This election will not stop our union from being a voice of reason in the halls of power. Year after year, legislative session after legislative session, IEA members will show up to protect public schools. Our work is too important to do otherwise.”

Voter Turnout and Out-of-State Money

The importance of voter turnout, the engagement of IEA members in important races, and the emergence of out-of-state, big-dollar funding in support of anti-public education politicians were the biggest takeaways from this election, according to Chris Parri, IEA’s political director.

In particular, the American Federation for Children, a national pro-voucher group based in Maryland, has become Idaho’s top-spending lobbying group in recent years. In this year’s primary election, AFC spent more than $300,000 in support of anti-public education candidates and opposing IEA allies.

“In districts where voter turnout was high and IEA members worked to help allies win, voters rejected this out-of-state agenda,” Parri said. “But in places where fewer Idahoans turned out to vote, the billionaire-funded groups like AFC won the day. The lesson here to our members should be that getting involved in elections matters.”

Technically, the victors in Tuesday’s party primaries must still win in November’s general election to represent their legislative district in Boise. But in reality, Idaho’s primary elections often prove to be more important because of the Republican Party’s dominance of electoral politics in the state.

Julie Yamamoto and Other Key Losses

House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie Yamamoto (R-Caldwell) delivers a rousing pro-public education speech to IEA members at Lobby Day Dinner during IEA’s Lobby Day 2023. She was the 2023 recipient of IEA’s Champion of Education Award.

The biggest blow to IEA members’ fortunes at the Idaho Statehouse was the defeat of Rep. Julie Yamamoto (R-Caldwell), chair of the House Education Committee.

A stalwart ally of IEA members and public education, Yamamoto ran her committee as a bulwark against some of the more extreme education policies brought forward from the anti-public education corners of the Legislature.

In recent years, several voucher schemes, extreme library bills and other bad-for-students bills died in the House Education Committee. In fact, in 2024’s session, anti-public education forces did everything possible to avoid that committee altogether.

Yamamoto was named IEA’s Champion of Education in 2023, an award given to someone who’s made “a special and unique contribution to the cause of education” in their work.

“Idahoans owe Chairwoman Yamamoto an incalculable amount of gratitude for her leadership and sheer grit in the defense of their public schools,” said McInelly, IEA’s presiddent. “Few policymakers in this state have done more to protect Idaho students from the worst instincts of some members of the Legislature than her. IEA members will sorely miss her sound reasoning and friendship.”


Other notable pro-public education lawmakers defeated by extremist candidates backed by out-of-state groups in Tuesday’s election include:

  • Matt Bundy (R-Mountain Home)
  • Geoff Schroeder (R-Mountain Home)
  • Linda Wright Hartgen (R-Twin Falls)
  • Greg Lanting (R-Twin Falls)
  • Kenny Wroten (R-Nampa)

Important Wins for Education

Yamamoto’s loss was softened considerably by the close victory of Rep. Lori McCann (R-Lewiston) over an extremist challenger.

McCann served as vice-chair of the House Education Committee under Yamamoto and is a close ally of IEA members. In the 2024 legislative session she debated passionately against union-busting legislation that would have crippled the IEA and she’s been an important pro-education voice in the face of enormous pressure from House leadership.

One of the more exciting wins on Tuesday was the defeat of one of the Legislature’s most virulent anti-public education members, Sen. Scott Herndon (R-Sagle), by Jim Woodward, a former member of the Senate and IEA ally who was defeated by Herndon in 2022. Herdon, a member of the Senate Education Committee and the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing joint committee, was a force behind many of the anti-public education and anti-IEA initiatives that surfaced during his time as a lawmaker.

“Having Jim Woodward back in the Idaho Senate is good news for IEA members,” said Parri. “He’s a thoughtful lawmaker that earned IEA members’ endorsement in the run-up to this election.”

In other races, a number of pro-public education candidates defeated incumbents allied with anti-public education elements. Those include:

  • Camille Blaylock defeated Sen. Chris Trakel (R-Caldwell)
  • Shawn Dygert defeated Rep. Tina Lambert (R-Caldwell
  • John Shirts’ defeat of Rep. Jacyn Gallagher (R-Weiser)
  • Ben Fuhriman’s defeat of Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot)

The Voter Turnout Case Study

Yamamoto’s defeat and Woodward’s victory provide a case study of sorts about the importance of voter turnout in legislative races, according to Parri, IEA’s political director.

Just under 16,000 voters, or 40% of registered voters, turned out to give Woodward his 613-vote victory over his extremist opponent in the Idaho Panhandle’s District 1, a very conservative area of the state.

In contrast, the Caldwell area’s more populous District 11 saw less than 3,400 voters, or about 16% registered voters, handing Yamamoto’s extreme opponent a win of less than 500 votes. Parri said that a turnout of just 20% could have made the difference in Yamamoto’s defense of her seat in the Legislature.

“The lesson here is that turnout matters,” said Parri. “Poll after poll shows that Idaho voters put education at the top of the list of public policy issues they care about. But if they do not vote, those priorities get subverted by special interests, like these out-of-state groups trying to influence Idaho education policies.”

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