From the Opinion Editor

For John McGee, Tuesday’s election shows just how forgiving some Idaho voters can be

Idahoans are a forgiving bunch — to a point.

Two politicians were seeking to get back into voters’ good graces in Tuesday’s election.

John McGee, fallen from grace twice while he was a Republican state senator in a leadership position, apparently ascended back into political office Tuesday, convincing voters to put him on the Caldwell City Council. McGee received 1,291 votes, or 39.24%, in a three-way race.

Even though McGee was the top vote-getter, city code states, “Members of the Caldwell city council shall be elected by a majority of the qualified electors as established by the Idaho Code,” causing some question as to whether there would be a runoff election.

At 39.24%, McGee fell short of a majority. Evangeline Beechler received the second-highest vote total, at 1,005, or 30.55%. Incumbent council member Chuck Stadick came in third, with 994 votes, or 30.21%.

However, Canyon County spokesman Joe Decker said the wording in Caldwell’s city code is not specific enough, such as 50% plus one, as a definition for “majority.” Further, the city code references Idaho Code, and Idaho Code states the winner is the person who receives the most votes. So as far as the Canyon County elections office is concerned, there is no need for a runoff. Canyon County officials have consulted with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, which concurs, Decker said. Canyon County officials on Wednesday were awaiting a letter from the Attorney General’s office to confirm that opinion.

Brent Coles, the former Boise mayor who resigned in 2003 amid felony charges of misusing public funds, meanwhile, was trending at about 7 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election to return to the Boise mayor’s seat, well behind Lauren McLean, incumbent Dave Bieter and Rebecca Arnold, who were in the top three spots, respectively.

Coles perhaps presented the best case for redemption. Throughout the campaign, he graciously and calmly answered for his sins, even thanking questioners for the opportunity to address his past. His campaign, too, presented perhaps the best case for a challenge to the current administration, offering a measured and reasonable call for reining in spending, lowering property taxes and spending tax dollars more wisely on basic services, such as police and fire.

In the final week before the election, I heard multiple people say they liked what Coles was saying and were willing to forgive him. One quip I heard was that misusing a couple of thousand tax dollars (Coles’ indiscretion) was better than spending $100 million on a pet project (the now-stalled downtown library proposed by the city).

McGee is more difficult to justify.

His indiscretions can hardly be called indiscretions. These were serious charges — twice.

McGee was arrested in 2011 on a DUI charge and a felony charge for allegedly stealing an SUV and crashing it in a driveway in Meridian. According to police reports, McGee took a Ford Excursion and cargo trailer from the Southwest Boise home of a “complete stranger” and crashed it in a yard. A breath test showed McGee’s blood alcohol content at nearly twice the legal limit. McGee pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI, sparing him a felony conviction that would have forced him from the Senate. In January 2012, McGee returned to the Legislature and retained his position as caucus chairman, after no one even opposed him for the job.

McGee got back on everyone’s good side, and then squandered his second chance when he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman behind locked office doors in the Senate offices. McGee resigned after the female staff member accused him of propositioning her for sex and making a series of other unwanted sexual advances inside his Idaho Capitol office, where at times McGee locked the door behind them.

The woman told investigators that he suggested she perform oral sex on him, and during another encounter, grabbed her buttocks, according to police reports, as reported at the time by The Associated Press and other media. She told police that McGee again called her into his office, locked the door and asked her to take her shirt off, according to a police report. She told detectives that she left the room while he was performing a sex act on himself.

McGee pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disturbing the peace and completed a 39-day stint in jail.

Despite these seemingly inexcusable acts by McGee, Bill Roscoe of the Boise Rescue Mission and state Sen. Patti Anne Lodge saw fit to excuse him, forgiving him to the point of giving him campaign donations of $100 and $500, respectively.

This, too, even though two highly qualified candidates, Beechler and Stadick, were standing at the ready.

The good folks of Caldwell are certainly a forgiving bunch.

Scott McIntosh is the opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman. You can email him at smcintosh@idahostatesman.com or call him at 208-377-6202. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcIntosh12.

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This column shares the personal opinions of Idaho Statesman opinion editor Scott McIntosh on current issues in the Treasure Valley, in Idaho and nationally. It represents one person’s opinion and is intended to spur a conversation and solicit others’ opinions. It is intended to be part of an ongoing civil discussion with the ultimate goal of providing solutions to community problems and making this a better place to live, work and play. Readers are encouraged to express their thoughts by submitting a letter to the editor. Click on “Submit a letter or opinion” at idahostatesman.com/opinion.

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Always full of opinions and tolerant of others, Scott McIntosh is the opinions editor for the Idaho Statesman. He has won dozens of state and national awards, including Best Editorial from the Idaho Press Club for 2017.
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