No Democrat has run for Canyon County Commission since 2010. Does this one have a chance?

Canyon County, neighbor to the more-liberal-leaning Ada County, has long been known as a place where Democratic candidates rarely win elections. They rarely even try.

For over a decade, no Democrats have filed to run for the Canyon County Commission, according to records obtained by the Idaho Statesman. But Kyle Thompson changed that in the May primary election.

Thompson garnered 2,190 votes as the unopposed Democratic candidate in District 3, which covers Nampa. He will face incumbent Republican Zach Brooks, who won 11,890 votes to overcome challenger Richard D. Williams’s 8,219, in the general election Nov. 5.

In a county where registered Democrats make up just 11% of registered voters, does Thompson have a chance?

Thompson says he’s running for choice, democracy

Thompson, a 27-year-old Nampa resident who works in information technology, knows he faces an uphill battle. He hopes to win his election, but he says that more than that, his candidacy is about upholding democracy.

“We have a problem here in Idaho where we are not really ruled by democracy,” he said.

About 24% of registered voters statewide cast their ballots in the May primary, according to the Idaho Capital Sun. According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, Republican voters make up 51% of registered voters in Canyon County. Unaffiliated voters, who are barred from voting in the Republican primary, make up 33%.

To Thompson, if just 20% of Canyon County Republicans voted in the closed Republican Primary, that means only about 10% of the county’s total registered voters chose the GOP candidates.

“Thinking about a race with no Democratic challengers in our general elections, it means our democracy is being determined by 10% of the population, which that’s not democracy,” Thompson told the Idaho Statesman in an interview in downtown Nampa.

“Especially this year, when it’s a presidential election year, this is the year where we need to stand up and make a presence,” Thompson said. “It has to be now.”

Over the past year, Anthony Porto, political director for the Idaho Democratic Party, has worked to recruit Democrats to run for open seats in the Legislature all over Idaho. He has helped recruit Democrats to run in Canyon County, and this year each legislative seat in the county has a Democratic candidate. Porto seeks election himself in the House’s District 11, which includes Caldwell and some unincorporated areas of Canyon County.

He told the Statesman by phone that he and other party members and candidates have spent countless hours campaigning for each other in the county and registering new voters.

Porto and Thompson agree that now is a crucial time for Democrats in Idaho. “We have a lot of momentum, and we’re building to redefine what Canyon County is,” he said.

‘Democrats have momentum, Republicans have infighting’

Canyon County Democrats hope to sway the county’s roughly 33,000 unaffiliated voters in November. Thompson has been door-knocking and registering new voters.

“On top of trying to gather as much that unaffiliated vote as possible, and the Democrat vote, there are a little chunks of the Republican base that we can knock off,” Thompson said.

In the Republican primary for the Idaho House District 11 seat that Portico wants, Kent Marmon defeated incumbent Rep. Julie Yamamoto. Porto won 451 votes unopposed. Marmon won 1,912 and Yamamoto 1,455.

Marmon, who lost four previous elections for the Legislature, described himself in the Statesman Voter Guide as the “conservative choice” in his race against Yamamoto.

The two Republicans differed over school vouchers. Idaho Education News reported that Marmon previously said that public education funds should follow students to schools that meet their needs, including private institutions. Yamamoto has resisted such legislation.

Porto believes he can pick up some Canyon Republicans who oppose sending public funds to private schools.

“So many people are waiting to try to change the party from within,” Porto said, referring to Republicans. “It’s not happening, right? You’re not going to bet on a horse that hasn’t gone in the direction in a long time. Democrats have momentum. Republicans have infighting.”

Candidate seeks ‘supportive’ county workplace

Thompson, a Montana native who grew up outside of Missoula and moved to Idaho in 2019, is the first Democrat to seek election to the county commission since 2010, according to the Canyon County Elections Office.

Estella Zamora ran in 2008 and 2010. In 2004, Dan Romero ran. Both lost.

Thompson is the vice chairman of the Canyon County Democratic Party. He said he felt a “calling to run” because he is disappointed the way many Republican legislators have been leading in Idaho.

He felt more equipped for the job of commissioner than legislator, though. “The responsibilities and how you manage the county is not really uncommon from what I’ve been doing for most of my career,” Thompson said. “I’ve had to manage groups and coordinate between departments.”

The county commissioner’s job is full-time, paying $112,360 per year. The Legislature is part-time, paying $16,684 per year.

If elected, Thompson hopes to make county government’s work environment more hospitable for employees than he believes it is under the current commissioners.

“I think our commissioners are building a repressive organizational structure, rather than one that’s supportive and meant to actually guide the community,” he said.

Business and Local Government Editor David Staats contributed.

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