For first time in 19 years, most of Boise’s City Council will be women

The election of Lisa Sanchez, front, a liberal Hispanic motivated to run for office in part by Donald Trump, and Democratic businesswoman Holli Woodings means that four of the Boise City Council’s six members are women.
The election of Lisa Sanchez, front, a liberal Hispanic motivated to run for office in part by Donald Trump, and Democratic businesswoman Holli Woodings means that four of the Boise City Council’s six members are women. doswald@idahostatesman.com

When Lisa Sanchez and Holli Woodings take office next week, they will give women a majority on the Boise City Council for the first time since the late 1990s.

Women held four of the six council positions between 1993 and 1999, and will do so again as Sanchez and Woodings join Council President Elaine Clegg and Lauren McLean. TJ Thomson and Scot Ludwig round out the council.

Sanchez, 46, works as a case coordinator and paralegal for the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, an Idaho State Bar service for low-income people. She decided to run for office after the 2016 election of Donald Trump and after witnessing what she said was an increasingly hateful political climate. She ran citywide and easily defeated four candidates to win an open seat.

“What I realized after the [2016] election was that I just needed to be present,” Sanchez said. “I was heartbroken at some of the things I saw people writing on Facebook, for example. People who I considered to be my friends. It was shocking to me to see the overt hatred and racism.”

Sanchez hadn’t run for office before. She describes herself as a progressive but isn’t affiliated with a political party. The first Latina elected to the council city spokesman Mike Journee said the city is unaware of any others Sanchez will be a liberal voice on the nonpartisan council in a Democratic city.

Sanchez, who is single, has struggled economically. As she campaigned, she told of losing her home to foreclosure and once having a skateboarder give her money for gas so she could get to work.

“I’d say, as a Latina, my perspective is probably different than the other women and the other council members,” said Sanchez, who lives in a rental a few blocks north of State State near Downtown. “And I think that’s why I was elected.”

Woodings, 38, a Democrat who lives in the East End, had already been heavily involved in local politics. She served one term in the Idaho House of Representatives in 2013-14 and ran for secretary of state in 2014, losing to Republican Lawerence Denney.

Previously, Woodings developed the largest wind energy farm in the state and operated a consulting business specializing in startup energy companies. She serves as chairwoman of the board of the Girl Scouts of the Silver Sage Council.

Woodings said she ran to “enrich our community, build our local economy and grow our city wisely.”

Clegg has served on the council since 2004 and has been its president for more than a decade. Since 1998, she has worked for Idaho Smart Growth, a nonprofit that helps more than 20 Idaho communities with land-use planning and development problems.

McLean joined the council in 2011. She owns The Confluence Group, a consulting firm that works with philanthropists, foundations and other groups to increase their impact. She also serves on the Dean’s Council for the School of Public Service at Boise State University.

Sanchez and Woodings joined a movement that saw large numbers of women across the country come forward to consider running for office in local, state and federal races after the 2016 election. In the 10 months before the election, about 1,000 women contacted Emily’s List, a political action committee that seeks to elect Democratic, abortion-rights-supporting women, about running for office. Since then, the number has ballooned to more than 25,000, said Stephanie Schriock, the group’s president.

“It seems that a variety of things are happening,” said Jaclyn Kettler, an assistant political science professor at Boise State University. “Some women are frustrated and angry or disappointed, and this has kind of been a way for them to foster their feelings and emotions.”

Clegg said women sometimes bring different life experiences than men, and that affects how they might view issues. But Clegg, Sanchez, Woodings and McLean doubt that gender will make much of a difference in how the council views the issues it confronts.

“I think the difference-making will be the different skills these people bring,” Clegg said. “We’ve always had a pretty diverse council, so I’m looking forward to learning what these two women will bring in terms of that.”

McLean said studies have shown that diverse perspectives lead to better outcomes.

“While our operations won’t change, the community will notice that we have a female majority council for the first time in a generation, and I hope young girls, our daughters, sisters, nieces, granddaughters, will be inspired and envision themselves leading their community in the future,” she said in an email.

Former council members Carolyn Terteling and Sara Baker, who served the last time women dominated the council, said a female majority made no difference in decisions.

“Alleys and city sewers have no sex. Parks have no sex. Libraries have no sex. Financial issues have no sex,” said Baker, who served on the council from 1986 to 2001 and who currently serves as an Ada County Highway District commissioner. “There really isn’t anything there.”

Mike Wetherell, a retired Ada County judge who served on the council from 1986 through 2003, agreed.

“From my standpoint at least, it didn’t make any difference,” Wetherell said. “I never had any issue at all with regard to working with female members of the council. In fact, I had a great time. They were a great group of folks to work with.”

How the new members will affect council votes isn’t clear. Differences among council members often come down to issues that have little to do with ordinary political ideologies, much less gender.

Sanchez, for example, opposed locating F-35 jets at Gowen Field to replace the A-10 Warthogs employed by the Idaho Air National Guard. That put her at odds with the council and Mayor Dave Bieter, who fought for the F-35s before the Air Force said Dec. 21 that it preferred sites in Wisconsin and Alabama. She said noise from the planes is incompatible with the city’s Energize Our Neighborhoods initiative to keep neighborhoods unique and desirable.

Clegg said no one notices when a decision-making body has a majority of men. It becomes a story only when the majority flips to women, she said.

“Hopefully, we get to a point where it’s not a big deal one way or the other,” Clegg said. “That would be my wish – and that we’re all being equitable to everyone.”

Sanchez will be sworn in during the council’s evening meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9. Woodings, who is out of town, will be sworn in the following day.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @JohnWSowell