CALDWELL — After a hard-fought race, Caldwell voters chose to give former GOP state Sen. John McGee a second chance in local politics Tuesday night following an unprecedented and divisive city council runoff election.
McGee won a place on Caldwell City Council with 2,072 votes, or 60.7%, in the runoff for Seat 6. His opponent, Evangeline Beechler, earned 1,340 votes, or 39.3%, according to Canyon County’s unofficial results.
More than 3,400 residents voted in the runoff, surpassing the 3,290 votes cast for the seat during the Nov. 5 general election. Canyon County’s elections website reports a 17.4% voter turnout of 19,700 total registered voters in Caldwell.
In an emailed statement Tuesday night, McGee said he is “humbled and honored to be the newest member of the Caldwell City Council.” He also said he was pleased by the strong turnout and grateful for the “overwhelming support” from voters.
“Over the past month we have talked to so many, heard the voice of this community and the message was clear — people in Caldwell are focused on the future of Caldwell,” McGee said in the statement.
In Beechler’s concession statement, she said she was grateful for the support she received through her campaign and requested McGee listen to the “needs and wishes” of every Caldwell resident.
“I hope McGee works hard to earn the trust and respect of everyone he’s elected to serve, and not just the people he shares a political affiliation with,” Beechler said Tuesday night by phone.
Outside of Canyon County’s single polling location at the county elections office Tuesday, Caldwell voter Gary Schoemaker said he voted in the runoff because he votes in every election. He would not say who he voted for, but said McGee’s conservative values were more important to him than McGee’s past conduct as a senator.
McGee resigned from the Idaho Senate in 2012 amid an accusation of sexually harassing a female Senate staffer. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disturbing the peace charge for sexual harassment and admitted violating the terms of his probation, stemming from a 2011 DUI case. He was sentenced to up to 88 days in jail but released after 39 days.
City council races are nonpartisan, but Beechler’s party affiliation was a target for opponents.
Members of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance stood outside the polling place Tuesday with posters alleging Beechler was “Bad on Guns” due to her involvement with the Democratic Party. Greg Pruett, president of the alliance, said the group’s members believe Beechler is anti-gun because she did not return the alliance’s gun-rights survey in 2018 while running for the Idaho Senate, which Pruett said means “she is hiding something.”
The alliance did not send the same survey to McGee or any other municipal candidates, Pruett said. The posters were not meant to deter people from voting for Beechler and they were not supporting McGee, Pruett said. They were there to inform voters about Beechler’s stance on guns, he said.
McGee, along with the other winning candidates in the Nov. 5 Caldwell City Council races — Jarom Wagoner and Chris Allgood — will be sworn in Jan. 7, the council’s first meeting of the year.
McGee, during the campaign, said he plans to focus on economic development, particularly the opportunities the city has with Indian Creek Plaza. McGee is vice chairman of Destination Caldwell’s board of directors, and he has said that he’s proud to have played a part in the plaza’s development.
Two of his top priorities, according to a candidate survey with the Idaho Press, are to “keep tax rates low” and “continue to create community assets like the Indian Creek Plaza.” McGee also said he supports continued discussion on Caldwell’s impact fees.
Of the 3,419 Caldwell voters who cast a ballot in the runoff, 2,095 voted early, according to county Clerk Chris Yamamoto.
Nationwide, runoff elections typically draw about 20% of the voter numbers seen in a general election, he said, which is slightly above Caldwell’s 17.4% turnout Tuesday.
However, the runoff still drew in more voters than the general election. Dozens of residents also took the opportunity to register to vote. As of 4 p.m., Yamamoto said the office had registered about 70 voters Tuesday.
The higher turnout in the runoff could be because this election was so contentious, Yamamoto said.
During the campaigns, McGee, along with several other residents, called out Beechler for her involvement with the Idaho Democratic Party, while many other voters criticized McGee’s past conduct as a senator.
Chuck Stadick, the incumbent councilman for Seat 6, said he considered endorsing Beechler and told her he would vote for her. Stadick said he did not consider endorsing McGee because of his conduct in the Senate.
McGee this campaign did receive support from several local leaders, including former Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Caldwell City Councilwoman Shannon Ozuna, who did not seek reelection for Seat 4, and Boise Rescue Mission Ministries president and CEO, Rev. Bill Roscoe.
Some Caldwell residents expressed concerns online and in letters to the editor about McGee’s history. On Nov. 15, a new political action committee, Informed Voters of Caldwell, called for McGee to concede the race because of his conduct as a senator. Another political action committee, the Concerned Citizens of Caldwell, sent out mailers and paid for advertisements attacking Beechler for her Democratic status.
In her statement issued Tuesday night, Beechler said, “We … hope that Mr. McGee will honor the second chance that the majority of voters who participated in this runoff, have given him. We urge him to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to best represent those who live here, those who have been harmed by this election, and those who currently do not feel safe with his return to elected leadership.”
Canyon County offered only one polling place for the runoff at the Canyon County Elections Office, which was open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The single location drew some criticism from the public, Yamamoto said. He said the county did not anticipate a runoff in Caldwell — this is the first time in 30 years the city code has been interpreted as calling for a runoff if no candidate gets 50% of the vote. The county’s contracts with the other polling locations did not allow them to offer voting in the case of a runoff, Yamamoto said.
Despite the single polling place, Yamamoto said county elections staff were able to accommodate voters Tuesday. The office offered extra parking spots for voters and promoted early voting, he said.
The county elections office offered 22 voting booths. As of 4 p.m., Yamamoto said the longest line he had seen had just nine voters.
Tuesday marked Caldwell’s first and only runoff election in recent history. City officials called for a runoff after residents brought up questions about the wording in Caldwell’s city code to do with municipal elections.
During the Nov. 5 general election, McGee received the most votes with 39.2%, or 1,291 votes, while Beechler earned about 30.5%, or 1,005 votes, and Stadick received about 30.2%, or 994 votes.
The next day, some Caldwell residents started questioning the city on whether the results warranted a runoff election because McGee did not earn more than 50% of the vote. Caldwell officials didn’t clear up the confusion or call for a runoff election until Nov. 8, after consulting with the city’s legal staff and county and state officials — and just hours after Beechler formally requested a runoff.
Since the Caldwell City Council adopted an ordinance in 1989 laying the groundwork for its elections, the city has not had a runoff, even though many candidates have won seats on the council with less than 50% of the vote.
At the council’s Jan. 21 meeting, council members will consider an amendment to the 1989 ordinance to address the vague wording that resulted in the runoff, according to Caldwell City Clerk Debbie Geyer. There were several sources of confusion in the wording of the ordinance, particularly the definition of “majority” and “qualified electors.”
The city council was planning to review the code on Dec. 16, but Geyer said the discussion was postponed because Mayor Garret Nancolas has to undergo surgery and will miss that meeting.