Election Central

Defending Ysursa, Dolores Crow blasts Denney’s conflict of interest claim

Former GOP Rep. Dolores Crow says she’s been agitated since last week when Rep. Lawerence Denney accused outgoing Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa of a conflict of interest for endorsing Phil McGrane as his successor.

“I just couldn’t sleep well until I get my two bits in,” said Crow, 82, a former chairwoman of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee known in the Legislature for her sharp tongue. “I just don’t think it’s right for him to lash out at a man who’s done the job for 40 years, for heaven’s sake.”

Crow, who represented Canyon County for 24 years, said she, too, is supporting McGrane, the Ada County chief deputy clerk.

In announcing his own endorsements from Congressman Raul Labrador and Treasurer Ron Crane, Denney questioned the integrity of the election in light of Ysursa’s support of McGrane, who also is endorsed by 24 of Idaho’s 44 county clerks.

“I was surprised to see our current Secretary of State endorse somebody in this race,” Denney said in a April 15 news release. “Because of the appearance of conflict of interest, as Secretary of State, I will not serve as anyone’s campaign chairman for any campaign over which I serve as the chief election judge. Doing otherwise sends the wrong message for the chief elections officer.”

Said Crow on Thursday: “That’s just a terrible piece of writing right there! Who made him the Grand Poo-Pah of what is and isn’t right? If he’d only looked in the past to see what had been done. They’re not out there counting votes.”

Indeed, Ysursa himself benefited from the endorsement of retiring Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa. After 35 years as secretary of state, Cenarrusa backed Ysursa, his chief deputy, in 2002. Cenarrusa died last year at 95 as one of Idaho’s most respected public officials.

That history and Crow’s defense of Ysursa didn’t prompt Denney to retreat.

“I join the other two Secretary of State candidates in expressing concern about Ben Ysursa — and other county clerks — making an endorsement in this race,” Denney said in a statement. “What if one candidate were to lodge a complaint against another candidate for the secretary of state office? Elections in Idaho are often very close and what if elections officials had to make judgment calls on the validity of ballots in the Secretary of State counting process? It’s like an umpire announcing a preference for one of the teams. Mr. Ysursa’s statements certainly compromise the appearance of detachment that officials must maintain and risk politicizing the process.”

Ysursa began working for Cenarrusa in 1974, as the office implemented the Sunshine Law requiring campaign finance and lobbying disclosure. Cenarrusa’s endorsement helped Ysursa defeat then-Sen. Evan Frasure of Pocatello by a 66 percent to 34 percent margin in the GOP primary and Democrat Ronald Perry 78 percent to 22 percent in the general. Frasure is running again.

The fourth GOP candidate is former Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise, who has backing from Cenarrusa’s widow, Freda. Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise will face the winner in November.

Crow and Denney have a complex history. They served together in the House for a dozen years before Crow retired in 2006.

In 2011, Denney, then speaker of the House, appointed Crow to the six-member bipartisan Redistricting Commission to redraw lines for legislative and congressional districts.

After the commission’s first legislative map was rejected by the Idaho Supreme Court for splitting too many counties, Denney tried to fire Crow saying she’d caved into the commission’s three Democrats.

Ysursa and GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said Denney had no such authority. Denney sued to replace Crow, but the Idaho Supreme Court dismissed his claim.

The commission quickly agreed to a new map, which has so far sustained the Republican supermajority. The number of seats held by the GOP — 80 of 105 — remained the same with new districts in 2012.

Crow said her criticism of Denney isn’t sour grapes. “Not at all,” she said. “In fact, that was one of the most fun times I’ve had having a fight because I knew I was gonna win.”

Denney later apologized to his caucus, calling Crow “an institution.” Denney’s handling of the matter contributed to the GOP caucus replacing him as speaker in December 2012.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics