My column today explores the prospects of Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa retiring after three terms and 40 years in the office that oversees elections, the Sunshine Law and business filings including corporations.
Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney is considering the race and told me he’s not concerned about Ysursa’s overall record as the biggest winner in the last three statewide elections.
“I hadn’t looked at that,” Denney said Monday. “You know, the race that I would have would be in the primary.”
Ysursa has been opposed just once in three runs in the Republican primary, in 2002. He did pretty well, getting 66 percent of the vote against a formidable opponent, former Sen. Evan Frasure of Pocatello.
In the 2002 general election, Ysursa won 78 percent of the vote over Democrat Ronald Perry, 297,189 to 86,437. The next highest mark was U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, who got 65 percent in his third and last Senate race over Democrat Alan Blinken. Treasurer Ron Crane was at 61 percent, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden at 58 percent.
In 2006, Ysursa was the only unopposed statewide candidate, carrying 100 percent of the vote. Crane got 64 percent, Wasden 62 percent.
In 2010, both Crane and Wasden were unopposed. Ysursa got 74 percent, ahead of GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Controller Donna Jones, both at 71 percent.
Denney may benefit, however, from the new GOP closed primary, a change favored by Denney and opposed by Ysursa.
Ysursa, as the state’s chief elections officer, was the lead defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Idaho Republican Party. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, a Bill Clinton appointee, ruled in 2011 that Idaho’s open primary violated the GOP’s right to free association. Between 1972 and 2010, voters had the protection of a secret ballot in deciding which party’s nominees to pick for state and federal office.
In 2012, Republicans closed their primary to those who publicly declare themselves as member of the Republican Party. Democrats left their primary open to all comers.
But Denney should know that it’s possible to put too much stake in closed primaries producing more pure GOP nominees. Denney found that out himself in 2012, when he gave $10,000 from the House Leadership Victory Fund to Gun PAC, one of four PACs operated by Denney ally Lou Esposito. Esposito, a political consultant who also has worked for Congressman Raul Labrador, was Denney’s appointee to the first redistricting commission two years ago.
Esposito got shut out in his effort to unseat six GOP incumbents: Reps. Ken Roberts of Donnelly, Christy Perry of Nampa and George Eskridge of Dover, and Sens. Patti Anne Lodge of Huston, Dean Cameron of Rupert and Shawn Keough of Sandpoint all defeated challenges from the right.
Whether that calculus changes for statewide races, we’ll find out next year.