By most metrics, Tuesday was a business-as-usual Republican election night in Idaho.
Mitt Romney, an adopted favorite son, ran up 64.5 percent of the vote, up from John McCains 61.5 percent four years earlier.
Reps. Raul Labrador (63 percent) and Mike Simpson (65.2 percent) were handily re-elected to Congress.
Statewide, the legislative races were a wash. When the 2013 session convenes, the GOP will again control 57 of 70 House seats and 28 of 35 Senate seats.
But on the biggest races of the night, Idahos Republican machine found itself on the wrong end of a sledgehammer. Propositions 1, 2 and 3 the education initiative pushed by state schools superintendent Tom Luna, embraced by Gov. Butch Otter and bankrolled to the tune of seven figures by Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot were swept off the books. The verdict was swift and statewide.
Prop 1, the attempt to dismantle the collective bargaining process for teachers, lost handily in a state that will never be defined as union-friendly. The no vote came in at 57.3 percent.
Prop 2, the teacher merit pay law, fared slightly worse, with a no vote of 58 percent.
Voters had particularly little use for Prop 3, killing the laptop law with a 66.7 percent supermajority no vote. All told, 432,730 Idahoans voted against Prop 3. By contrast, 420,390 Idahoans voted for Romney.
Many things. And one big thing.
Idaho Republican leaders made a gross miscalculation.
They framed education reform as a partisan issue.
Education is not a partisan issue.
Not in Idaho households.
Not in Idaho classrooms.
Not in Idaho communities.
The more the Republicans tried to paint this as a partisan matter, the more they ran headlong into resistance and resentment.
Thats why the propositions failed so resoundingly. And not just in blue Boise, where the local school board publicly criticized the laws. The laptop law the one supposed to bridge the technical divide between urban kids and rural kids lost in every county. Its best showing came in Owyhee County, with 44.9 percent.
A thumping this severe doesnt happen overnight:
There is, first and foremost, Lunas bait and switch. Luna cant reinvent the record, so lets review it. In the fall of 2010, he sought re-election saying nothing about a structural overhaul of K-12, and spoke instead about finding new funding sources for public schools.
In January 2011, he rolled out the Students Come First overhaul, catching education groups and everyday Idahoans by surprise. He said the overhaul was predicated by the new normal of austere budgets. Any talk of fighting for new dollars was conspicuous in its absence.
The resulting bills passed the Legislature with a little GOP opposition and no support from Democrats.
Supporters overestimated Idahos anti-union mindset. They tried to frame 2012 as a sequel to the bitter but ultimately successful 1986 campaign to retain Idahos right to work law.
That was almost a generation ago. Voters either have a short memory or a sympathetic view of their local teachers. Or both.
The eight-year, $180 million laptop contract with Hewlett-Packard was the political equivalent of a system crash. The deal, announced two weeks before Election Day, shattered any illusions that Prop 3 was a fiscally conservative initiative. Proponents had to defend an agreement to lease laptops for four years at a time, at a steep $1,171 per unit.
Then there was the saga of Education Voters of Idaho, the purported voice of Idaho parents that was funded by the likes of Albertsons heir Joe Scott, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a host of Idaho business interests. These mystery donors were revealed six days before the election.
So many missteps. One big misread of the Idaho electorate.
But what happens next?
Tuesdays vote was not a rejection of reform just a ringing repudiation of Lunas vision of reform. Even on Prop 3, there is a widespread agreement that technology must be a key ingredient in Idaho public schools. This was clearly evident in the editorial boards 54 interviews with legislative candidates this fall.
Does Luna finally own up to the fact that, by ambushing education groups 22 months ago, he set in motion the events that led to Tuesdays rout? Does this self-professed reformer commit to collaborative reform? In a statement Wednesday, Luna acknowledged, grudgingly, that Idahoans had expressed concerns. He did not back away from the principles of his proposals and said nothing about collaboration. Not an encouraging tone.
And what do opponents do? They didnt win by default Tuesday. Theirs was a smart, disciplined campaign. While the other side indulged in union-bashing, they kept their eyes, generally, on the content of the laws.
To their credit, Vote No on 1, 2, 3 leaders spoke Wednesday of working with Luna. Perhaps its a sign that they recognize what happened Tuesday. They have been handed a great opportunity to bring ideas to the table. They have something Luna and his supporters squandered: public backing.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert