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Appointing is anointing

| December 3, 2010 8:00 PM

Incumbency didn't help a lot of Democrats in the Nov. 2 elections. Yet over the last 13 years, it's proven to be an unbeatable weapon in Coeur d'Alene School Board elections.

Trustee Sid Fredrickson took issue with a point we made recently about four of the five current school board trustees having been appointed. Fredrickson countered that while that initially was the case, board members generally go on to earn re-election if that's their goal. If we implied that all these appointments give "insiders" an advantage, the respected Trustee Fredrickson implied that they're the best candidates to earn appointment in the first place.

The unanswered question was, how often does a Coeur d'Alene School District trustee face a challenger in an election and lose? Answer that and you pretty well can determine not just the power of incumbency, but the power of being appointed to the board in the first place.

Author and researcher Dan Gookin volunteered for the assignment of looking back over the past couple decades of school board elections to see what's happened. One of his findings is that often, trustees ran unopposed. Here are some other interesting observations from Mr. Gookin:

• Since 1996 there have been a total of six mid-term resignations.

• Each resignation is filled by a board appointment, and each appointment has won subsequent re-election.

• The last time an incumbent lost an election was in 1996, when Jane Curtis lost to Herb Cheeley. Curtis was in office one term.

• In fact, the only trustee from the period of 1992 to 1994 to remain in office was Vern Newby. Between those years, each incumbent was removed from office (Zones 1, 3, 4, and 4).

• Between 1990 and 1996, it was common for incumbent trustees to lose elections or to choose not to run again. I have no data prior to 1990.

• Before he became Idaho's lieutenant governor, Jack Riggs ran for Trustee Zone 4 in 1993 and came in fourth place with only 33 votes.

• It was common for incumbent trustees to have no opponents in their election between 1997 and 2001. With no competition in 1999, the board declared incumbents Edie Brooks and Herb Cheeley the winners a week before the scheduled election.

So there's at least part of the rest of the story. The good news? Because of changes in state law, school board elections will now be consolidated with other elections, meaning the days of minuscule turnout likely are over.

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