POST FALLS - A letter signed by Sen. Bob Nonini that arrived in some Post Falls voters' mailboxes a few days before Tuesday's school board races is stirring a post-election debate.
Nonini said he was caught off guard when he was the only lawmaker who had a signature on the letter. It was dated May 17 and in support of candidates Carol Goodman and Glorie Ward, both endorsed by the Reagan Republicans and election winners.
"There was a misunderstanding behind the letter," he said, adding that he didn't send the letter. Nonini said, had he known he would have been the only legislator to have his signature on the letter, he would have given it a second thought as to whether to allow to have it sent.
However, Nonini said he signed off on the content in the letter. It says "From the desk of Senator Bob Nonini" on the top.
Jeff Ward, treasurer of the Republican group and Glorie's husband, said he did the footwork on the letter in collaboration with the candidates.
The letter was critical of incumbent Julie Hunt, who narrowly lost to Goodman, and Dave Paul, Ward's opponent who was seeking a return to the board. Hunt and Paul were not specifically named in the letter, but it's obvious who it targets.
"I have had many opportunities to meet with (Hunt and Paul) over the years and one thing has become apparent," it states. "Their only concern is the teachers' union and keeping the union members happy without any regard for the residents funding Post Falls public education."
Jeff Ward and Goodman said Rep. Frank Henderson was also sought to sign the letter, but they left his name off it because he wasn't able to review the letter due to his wife and Post Falls City Council member Betty Ann Henderson being in the hospital due to a hernia surgery.
"We changed all the 'we's' to 'I's,'" Goodman said, adding that there were no major changes from the draft.
Hunt said she believes the letter was a key factor in her not getting re-elected. She lost to Goodman by 11 votes.
"I think it absolutely made a difference," she said. "If I received it, why wouldn't I have believed it? It came from a trusted elected official."
But Hunt believes the letter was filled with lies and "very hurtful."
"I've never even been introduced to (Nonini)," Hunt said. "We should be able to trust people to give us the truth."
She said union members asked her how they can help her in her campaign, but they've never approached her regarding teacher negotiations.
"When we have negotiations everybody is on the same page; there's no conflict," she said.
But that, Hunt said, is different than being influenced by the teachers.
Goodman said it's hard to say how much of an impact the letter had on the result because some politicians are not well-liked and it could have worked against her in some cases, too. She believes knocking on doors made the biggest difference in the election.
Hunt said Reagan Republican-endorsed candidates tried to make it a partisan election, using the party on literature, even though there's no Rs or Ds on the ballot. Hunt said she has been labeled a Democrat, even though she's a Republican.
She said she didn't use the party on her campaign literature because serving is "about the kids" and not politics.
"I didn't want to stoop to using (a party affiliation)," she said. "The fact that I lost is OK, but my hope is that our programs will be protected and kids don't suffer."
"There is a reason these are non-partisan elections and they should stay that way," he said. "I am not a sore loser and accept the fact that I got beat, but I am deeply sorry that politics played such an important part of this non-partisan election."
Hunt said if some board members are out of touch with helping give students opportunities and being fiscally responsible as some claim, she wonders why nearly $3 million in scholarships are being awarded this year in Post Falls and the district has one of the lowest supplemental levy rates in the state.
Nonini said that, based on his legislative experience, he believes the Post Falls candidates who came up short are aligned with the teacher union.
He said when boards are in control of setting budgets worth tens of millions dollars, candidates bring their own fiscal and party philosophies to the table. They also have to be open to differing opinions, he said.
"Politics is a full-contact sport, even in non-partisan elections," he said. "I appreciate Carol and Glorie asking me to sign a letter of endorsement. I support what they do."