Opinion

Did an ‘R’ trump an experienced Elmore County prosecutor with a ‘D’?

So, Riddle me this — and note the capital ‘R’ in riddle.

You’ll understand the reference as you read on and learn that “R” stands for Republican in Idaho — a powerful brand that has led to the defeat of many political opponents with a “D” for Democrat by their names. Here is one for the record:

Kristina Schindele was appointed Elmore County prosecutor in 2005 by commissioners in this predominantly Republican county where, today, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 6 to 1 .

Everybody knew Schindele was a Democrat when she first sought the job, and they have certainly known it for the last 12 years as she served admirably in the county, taking on some pretty tough cases.

Schindele ran unopposed for her job in 2006, 2008 and 2012. In the 2006 election she got just better than 4,400 votes. In 2008 and 2012 her vote totals had risen to 6,000 and 5,800 votes, respectively. To me, that looks like the track record of success. Nobody was running against her and those vote totals reflected someone who seemed to be gaining the public’s trust.

So, spin ahead to 2016 and Schindele finally drew an opponent in the general election, Daniel Page, an area attorney who has been managing public defenders. On his campaign website, Page describes himself as a fourth generation Idahoan. He attended law school at William and Mary in Virginia, where he also served as an intern for the National Rifle Association and Republican Majority Whip Tim Hugo in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Oh, and Page is a Republican. The first time Schindele attracts a GOP opponent in her career, and she loses?

Page won the Nov. 8 election quite handily 5,772 votes to 2,446 over Schindele. This is not to disparage Page in the least. He got elected fair and square, and he will soon be behind the desk and in the courtroom doing the job.

Did voters trade all of Schindele know-how for the “R” behind her opponent’s name on the ballot? There is no way to absolutely know that. What we do know is that The Statesman’s John Sowell interviewed all kinds of people (Schindele declined to comment) about the election. Nobody he talked to could think of any specific campaign issue that could account for Schindele’s defeat — though several posited to Sowell that Schindele’s Democratic affiliation “could have been the culprit.”

I have no partisan dog in this matter, and have no reason or evidence that makes me believe Page won’t be a success. But for politics to be a success in this state it takes robust competition among the political parties. It takes people — Democrats, Republicans and any third-party candidates — who possess the skills, courage and conviction to step forward and run. When someone like Schindele with so much experience is defeated, it can keep others on the sideline when they have the skills to do the job — but not the dominant political affiliation.

Back when Schindele was first appointed in 2005, the Mountain Home News wrote a lengthy piece about her, noting that the one-time VISTA volunteer already had served as deputy prosecuting attorney in Elmore County from 1999 to 2003, and that she then had moved on to work in the Idaho Attorney General’s office where she handled things like criminal appeals and some federal cases. She told the newspaper at the time, “Oddly enough, I think it was my time away from litigation that will help me be a better litigator now.”

I wish Page and Schindele the best going forward. Without the edge of competition among experienced opponents, politics and later governance tends to produce a dull blade at times when sharp people like them are most in demand.

Robert Ehlert: 208-377-6437, @IDS_HelloIdaho

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