Election Central

Smyser to attend 1st Lincoln Day, doesn’t plan to speak

Former Sen. Melinda Smyser will be at the Weiser Vendome on Friday night for the opening of the GOP Lincoln Day season, a mandatory pilgrimage for aspiring candidates in the May 20 primary.

But Smyser isn’t responding to speculation she’ll become the GOP establishment candidate for superintendent of public instruction after Monday’s news Tom Luna won’t seek a third term.

She’ll be in Weiser in her capacity as Canyon County GOP chair and doesn’t plan to introduce herself to influential primary voters. “Oh no, I’m just going to be there supporting Republicans,” Smyser told me Monday afternoon.

Smyser, who makes $63,000 as a regional director for U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, can’t run for partisan office and keep her job under the provisions in the Hatch Act.

But as I reported this morning (link above), plenty of Republicans think she’d be an excellent candidate who would command attention over lesser-known hopefuls who have announced, Randy Jensen, a principal in American Falls, and John Eynon, a music teacher in Cottonwood.

The chorus of Smyser admirers left in my notebook from Monday include:

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, who said, “She’s good at anything she chooses to do. She’s extremely competent and she’s very intelligent.”

Rice, however, said a Smyser candidacy won’t be a slam dunk. “I expect a large primary. Let the games begin. When you get an open seat, you get people who wouldn’t have run running.”

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star: “Melinda would be awesome, if she decides to run. You’ve got a teacher, an ex-educator. She knows how the system works and she’d do a good job representing the students and parents around the state. There are a lot of people within the party who are very supportive of Melinda.”

Moyle said the restrictions in the Hatch Act may mean a sub rosa “exploratory campaign.”

“I don’t know what she’s going to do. I would assume she stays quiet until she decides because she’s a federal employee.”

New Plymouth School Superintendent Ryan Kerby, who had been touted as a successor to Luna. Instead, Kerby said he’s sticking with his plan to seek the District 9 House seat being vacated by former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who is running for secretary of state. Kerby will be in Weiser Friday night and he’ll get a chance to speak.

Luna’s exit didn’t get him to become one of those who entered the race. “I’m not going to change my mind,” Kerby said. I’m running for the Legislature.”

Without making an endorsement, Kerby said of Smyser, “I like Melinda. I think she’s be solid. She would surround herself with good people.”

Her experience — teacher, counselor, school board member, senator — is impressive, Kerby said. “All of that I think makes her a really strong candidate. She would be outstanding.”

Former Rep. Steve Smylie, R-Boise, fell 893 votes short of beating Luna in the 2006 GOP primary. Smylie said he’d decided several months ago against a rematch against Luna this year. Now that Luna’s out, Smylie said the challenges of organization and raising an estimated $100,000 make a change of heart unlikely, though he said he’s rethinking the matter.

“I’m never going to say ‘never,’” Smylie said. “But it’s more in the area of ‘probably not.’”

Smylie said he respects Smyser’s connections, particularly her closeness to Risch. “That would give her a lot of inside advantages. Jim Risch didn’t get elected to the U.S. Senate without having a lot of political savvy.”

And her husband, former state senator and high-profile lobbyist Skip Smyser, would help raise money, Smylie said.


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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