For what appears to be the first time in history, women will form a majority of the Ada County Commission, a three-member board that oversees the budget, land-use decisions and other county government functions. And, the women who won two commission seats Tuesday gave Democrats a majority for the first time in years.
One of the victors, Diana Lachiondo, who is Boise Mayor David Bieter’s director of community partnerships, will represent District 1, which includes most of Boise. A leader in the city of Boise’s efforts to house homeless people, Lachiondo said she ran against incumbent Republican Jim Tibbs out of frustration that the commissioners weren’t putting more support behind those programs or doing enough to confront growing use of opioids.
“I just kind of woke up in January and said, ‘I can’t put up with this anymore,’ ” she said in a phone interview early Wednesday. “This has never been some vanity run or anything about that. It’s been me being a lady who likes to get things done and being frustrated that our current folks weren’t.”
It was a tight race. With all votes counted, unofficial results showed Lachiondo ahead of Tibbs by barely 5,000 votes, with 51.4 percent to Tibbs’ 48.6 percent.
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District 3 includes Southeast Boise and the city south of Interstate 84, as well as Kuna and south Meridian. There, fellow Democrat Kendra Kenyon beat Republican Sharon Ullman by 52.6 percent to 47.4 percent.
Ullman is a former county commissioner who returned in this year’s primary to defeat Dave Case, who bested her in 2012. Kenyon did not immediately return a phone call after midnight.
Lachiondo credited she and her team knocked on more than 45,000 doors.
“I’ve had a whole army of moms behind me,” she said. “They’ve been making phone calls. They have been taking their kids out door-knocking for me. They have stood beside me, and it has just been an incredible thing to be a part of.”
And though her campaign adopted the hashtag #WorkLikeAMother, Lachiondo, a married mother of two boys, ages 10 and 6, said, “I’ve never really leaned on the fact, necessarily, that I’m a woman.”
“Maybe people are looking for something different,” she said. “People are frustrated and they are sick of people finger-pointing ... They’re really looking for regional leadership, and you can expect that from me.”
When they take office in January, Lachiondo and Kenyon will confront the most divisive topic in the Treasure Valley these days: rapid population growth and the anxieties over traffic, rising home prices and disappearing open space that it has brought.
During the campaign, Lachiondo said the county needs to do a better job working with cities to address large developments, sometimes called planned communities, outside city limits, such as the 1,800-home Dry Creek Ranch.
These kinds of projects “create additional traffic congestion and degrade our air quality,” Lachiondo said in the Idaho Statesman voter guide.
“They also burden existing taxpayers by requiring infrastructure improvements and public services in areas not contiguous to existing cities,” she said. “Because of these financial and quality of life concerns, I will not support these types of developments in unincorporated Ada County.”
Tibbs disagreed. He said the county does work well with the cities.
“The issue of growth concerns caused by planned community development in unincorporated Ada County is simply not true,” Tibbs wrote in the voter guide. “The planned community occurred long before the growth concerns became an issue. The truth is approximately 1,000 people are moving into Ada County every month and most of them are moving to the cities of Boise and Meridian.”
Unlike the other candidates, Ullman saw growth as a good thing.
“Although rapid growth certainly brings its challenges, our county would be worse off with a population exodus, as has happened here in the past when our young people had to leave to find jobs,” she wrote in the voter guide. “We all know the Treasure Valley is a great place to live. Word has gotten out and others are coming here to enjoy all that our community has to offer. Growth does bring challenges but cannot be stopped.”
Both she and Kenyon agreed that the county needs to cooperate with cities like Boise to make sure growth’s negative impacts don’t ruin the valley.
“There is a lack of collaboration and planning at the county level,” Kenyon said in the voter guide. “The county needs to do a better job working with the cities and (the Ada County Highway District) to solve current transportation and infrastructure problems and budget shortfalls.”
Kenyon said she would follow Smart Growth principles, which emphasize compact, walkable developments in urban areas as an alternative to sprawl, which chews up open space and leads to people spending more time driving.
Lachiondo and Kenyon will join Republican Rick Visser on the commission in January.