In Tuesday’s convincing defeat of the three educational reform measures, widely known as the “Luna Laws,” Idahoans delivered a stinging rebuke to GOP leaders, including Governor C.L. “ Butch” Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna. In their rejection of Prop 1, voters retained and protected the collective bargaining rights of teachers.
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This rich political irony is not to be overlooked. Idaho, one of the reddest of red states, and a Right-to-Work state to boot, reversed course to preserve the rights of teachers to negotiate nearly all the terms of their contracts. We’ll wonder about the reasoning behind this reversal, but it likely stems from at least three factors.
First, there is the widespread recognition that teachers, not bureaucrats in the Department of Education, have a better idea of how to govern their classrooms to meet the needs of their students. Voters understand that the effort to “Put Students First” begins with a careful and respectful consideration of educators’ views and recommendations.
Second, there is something to be said for the argument that the rejection of all three propositions represents a referendum on Luna—his politics, his disregard of teachers in a purported overhaul of the education system and the lack of transparency that characterized the “Yes” campaign from start to finish, including the refusal of Education Voters of Idaho to disclose the source of its contributions. In this context, then, there was a personal element, but that’s common in political campaigns.
Third, the preservation of collective bargaining may have reflected the growing understanding in Idaho and across the nation, that middle class workers have seen their wages and benefits diminished as unions have lost their clout. That’s certainly the case for Idaho workers—union and non-union members alike—who have lost considerable financial ground since the passage of Right-to-Work a quarter of a century ago.
Our nation’s founders believed that self-governance, the essence of our republic, requires eternal vigilance—citizen oversight of governmental programs, policies and activities of our elected representatives—if we are to maintain governmental accountability. It may well be the case that within the rebuke of leaders who refused to seek the views of their constituents on reform of the education system—a unifying issue of central concern to all Idahoans—lies the potential for a “new politics” in the Gem State, one that would feature a broad coalition of Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents who, having grown tired of the imposition of government, may seek bi-partisan solutions to the great challenges that confront us.
There is little doubt that Idahoans came together to assert their voices and promote the best interests of our students. Surely, we are entitled to believe that this successful coalition can be maintained to address and seek common sense solutions to other problems that have not been adequately addressed by our representatives.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.