Brad Little becomes Idaho’s next governor

Brad Little, Idaho’s governor-elect, has a plan for his future

Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell talked with Republican Brad Little before his election win on Nov. 6 about his plans for the future.
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Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell talked with Republican Brad Little before his election win on Nov. 6 about his plans for the future.

Idaho voters selecting a new governor for the first time since 2006 faced a choice between a female Democrat promising robust change, and a male Republican largely pledging to continue Gov. Butch Otter’s policies.

Conservative Idaho again picked the Republican as its governor Tuesday night. Lt. Gov. Brad Little defeated Paulette Jordan by what has become an expected margin in state gubernatorial races: With all precincts counted, Jordan had 38.2 percent of the vote to Little’s 59.8 percent.

“Twenty-four years ago Phil Batt broke a 24-year cycle of Democrats having control of the governor’s office,” Little said during his victory speech Tuesday night before a packed room of cheering supporters at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City. “This is the 24th anniversary of that, and Idaho is still a very red state.”

Little foreshadowed the focus of his tenure, calling himself “a constitutional conservative who strongly believes in the 10th Amendment,” which limits federal power.

“I look forward to working with President Trump as we continue to allow Idahoans to be the masters of their own destiny,” he said. “Idaho has been fairly successful, but we have more work to do in taking back the authority that the federal government over the years has taken, whether it is in the areas of education, transportation, health care, public lands management and all of the areas of regulation.”

Idaho Governor-elect Brad Little stands with his wife Teresa as the crowd at the Republican election night party applauds his successful election Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 at the Riverside in Garden City. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

While campaigning over the last 20 months, Little’s strongest ally appeared to be his years invested in Idaho politics and relationships. Little has spent 17 years so far at the Statehouse, as a state senator from 2001 to 2008 and lieutenant governor since 2009.

The race in some ways came down to a numbers game.

Idaho last elected a Democratic governor (Cecil Andrus) in 1990. In the most recent gubernatorial election, the Republican Otter beat his Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff, by 15 points.

This year, 51 percent of Idaho voters were registered as Republicans, as of a Nov. 1 Idaho Secretary of State’s Office report. Twelve percent were Democrats, and 36 percent were independent or registered with third parties.

To get the votes to become Idaho’s new governor, Jordan needed the full support of Democrats and independents and a chunk of Republicans.

Little, 64, is a third-generation Emmett sheep rancher. A loyal Otter ally who is often considered heir apparent to the outgoing governor’s legacy, Little campaigned on continuing to promote Idaho’s economy, improve education and advance agricultural interests.

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little talks with Tom Katsilometes of Boise at the Riverside Hotel, the location of the Republican election night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

A self-proclaimed policy wonk with a more moderate touch, Little rarely upstaged Otter and worked quietly and patiently behind the scenes, waiting for his chance to seek the governor’s seat.

He talked Tuesday evening about what was different this year on the campaign trail: “The economy. People are not worried about losing their jobs. They are worried about education. They are worried about health care. They are worried about quality life. They are worried about open space.”

She lost in her bid to be Idaho's governor. But she's proud of her work and supporters.

Jordan, 38, aimed to become Idaho’s first female governor, its first Native American governor and one of its youngest governors. She also would have been the nation’s first female Native American governor.

“We are so excited. We worked so hard,” she said earlier Tuesday evening. “It has built up to this moment of excitement with people all over our state who have been a part of this campaign. They have a piece of this campaign to take with them. We have done everything that we could and when we look at it ourselves at the end of the day we are proud to say we honored our ancestors.”

Asked what was next for her with a loss, Jordan said: “We are here to defend the people. I will always defend the people. ... In any way the people would like me to be helpful, I will always be there for the people of Idaho.”

Following her surprise trouncing of Balukoff in the May Democratic primary, Jordan became a national media darling, with many news outlets traveling to Idaho to profile her historic run.

Idaho supporters saw in Jordan a fresh start: an opportunity to jettison decades of Republican control and influence and an out-of-touch Democratic Party. Her following spread beyond Idaho’s borders, with nearly half of her campaign contributions coming from out of state.

Jordan was neither drafted nor endorsed by the Democratic political class. That was fine with her, as she campaigned on eschewing political labels.

Tuesday, she described what she treasured most during her campaign: “Hearing the stories of the most vulnerable of our people. Being able to go inside people’s homes and see how they live and visiting our sanctuaries and shelters. Getting to meet a lot of our young people.”

Cynthia Sewell is Idaho Statesman’s political investigative reporter. Contact her at (208) 377-6428, csewell@idahostatesman.com or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter.