Idaho Republicans back 2 Boise council candidates as local campaigns get costly

·5 min read

Less than a month before Election Day, the 11 candidates running for three Boise City Council seats have raised more than $140,000 combined, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. That includes money from conservative donors, part of what the state Republican Party leader calls a concerted effort to flip the council in Idaho’s largest city.

By far the largest number of donations have gone to candidates in District 3, which encompasses the North End, Northwest Boise, and the Collister, Sunset, Veterans Park, Pierce Park and nearby Foothills neighborhoods. The race is proving to be one of the most competitive this election cycle, at least financially.

Incumbent Councilor Lisa Sanchez, who has been actively fundraising since January 2020, has so far raised more than $43,000. Her chief rival, Boise real estate agent Greg MacMillan, has raised more than $44,000 since starting his fundraising efforts in late July.

Individual donations for MacMillan’s campaign are dramatically larger on average than his opponent. Campaign finance data show the median amount given to MacMillan’s campaign is $500 and the most frequent donation size is $1,000. By comparison, Sanchez’ median donation size is $50, with $25 being the most common size.

MacMillan told the Statesman on Tuesday that his success in fundraising is a testament to his standing in the community and people’s belief in his campaign. As for the amount, that’s not up to him, he said.

“I’m humbled by the numbers, but I’ve never asked for a specific amount,” MacMillan said by phone.

Nevertheless, his campaign still has raised a considerable amount in a short time. In September alone, the campaign pulled in more than $33,000.

Some donations included $1,000 from Tracy Lotz, founder of vacation rental software LiveRez, and at least $2,500 from the Bronco Motors Hyundai dealership and its owners, Grant and Christine Petersen. Other donors include various people involved in Treasure Valley real estate and development.

Some of Sanchez’ largest donors include $1,000 from former Pocatello city councilor Beenish Mannan, Idaho education advocate Bev Harad and Gary Multanen, former owner of Bestbath Systems in Caldwell.

The candidates for the Boise City Council District 3 election. Top row: Lisa Sanchez (left) and Greg MacMillan. Bottom row: Maria Santa Cruz-Cernik and Nicholas Domeny.
The candidates for the Boise City Council District 3 election. Top row: Lisa Sanchez (left) and Greg MacMillan. Bottom row: Maria Santa Cruz-Cernik and Nicholas Domeny.

‘A lot of conservative money’

Charity Strong, Sanchez’s campaign manager, said she believes much of MacMillan’s support stems from a failed effort in 2020 to recall Sanchez and Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. The effort to recall Sanchez came after comments she made regarding white supremacy and racism.

“There’s a lot of conservative money that’s going to be raised that we haven’t seen in prior city of Boise elections,” Strong said.

MacMillan said critiques of Sanchez have come up in his discussions with residents but not often. His campaign manager, Kate Lovan, said MacMillan is a registered independent and does not identify with one party.

Despite his lack of political affiliation, MacMillan and other candidates have received thousands in donations from Republican donors. City council races in Idaho are nonpartisan, though Boise’s council today is dominated by Democrats and has no Republicans.

The Democratic dominance reflects Boise’s transition over the past generation to a Democratic city. Until this election, council members have been elected at large, meaning citywide, just as the mayor is. Last year, Idaho’s GOP-dominated Legislature required cities with 100,000 or more people to elected councilors by district. Republicans see the change as a chance to make inroads in Boise.

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Tom Luna told the Statesman on Wednesday the state party has rarely involved itself in nonpartisan local elections, something leaders are trying to change with upcoming city council and school board elections.

That includes having Republican candidates make radio appearances and reaching out to voters who have recently moved to the area, who Luna said tend to be more conservative. He said the state Republican Party supports MacMillan and District 1 candidate Luci Willits because both have “stepped up and worked with the party.”

“We see a real opportunity to flip (the districts) and have some influence on the decisions made at the city level,” Luna said.

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Tom Luna has said the Republican Party is making effort to get more conservative candidates elected to city council offices in Ada County.
Idaho Republican Party Chairman Tom Luna has said the Republican Party is making effort to get more conservative candidates elected to city council offices in Ada County.

One pro-Republican funding source, the Idaho Land Fund, an organization with ties to J.B. Scott of the Albertson Family Foundation, donated $1,000 each to MacMillan and Willits, who was Luna’s chief of staff when Luna was state superintendent of public instruction.

In recent months, the Idaho Land Fund donated $10,000 each to the Ada County Republican Central Committee and the Idaho Republican Party. It has donated nearly $300,000 to Republican interests and candidates the past two decades, according to followthemoney.org.

Willits, whose district encompasses much of West Boise, has raised more than $26,000 so far, the most of any District 1 candidate. That includes large donations from Luna, Albertson Family Foundation Board Chair Jamie Scott, and longtime Idaho Republican activist Blake Hall of Idaho Falls.

Willits said breaking up council seats by district gives Republicans like her a better chance at succeeding in what has historically been a mostly Democratic city and that she believes voters want a “fiscal conservative” on the council.

As for her opponents, retired postal worker Laura Metzler has raised north of $9,000, while David Jones has said he will not accept any campaign contributions.

All this comes a year after Republicans successfully flipped the Ada County Commission, after electing Ryan Davidson and Rod Beck in 2020.

District 3 includes the North End, a reliably Democratic stronghold in Boise. Five of the current six council members, as well as Mayor Lauren McLean, live in North End, East End and Highlands neighborhoods.

Melanie Folwell, a Boise political organizer who has run multiple local campaigns, said it’s not unusual for Republicans to win seats on the council, and that geographic districts give them a strong chance of winning.

“There’s going to be renewed partisan interest in winning seats in certain parts of the city,” Folwell said, citing West Boise as an example.

In District 5 — encompassing the East End, downtown and the Bench — fundraising has been far more subdued. Incumbent Holli Woodings has raised the most at $9,385, including $1,000 from Democratic former Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo’s campaign fund. The next closest is Katie Fite at about $5,000.

Early voting starts Oct. 18. Election Day is Nov. 2.

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