Norm Semanko: From Idaho GOP heavy to humble civic servant? (w/AUDIO)

Norm Semanko has spent the past few years running in high-profile political circles.

State Republican Party chairman since 2008, he presided over the GOP’s sweep of statewide and congressional races last November. Semanko doubled as general counsel for the Republican National Committee until March.

And yet, on Monday, Semanko told the Statesman editorial board that he would be more than happy to expend his political energy on reworking Eagle’s sign ordinance, or rolling back city fees, or negotiating with neighboring Garden City on Greenbelt bicycle access.

“This is not a partisan deal,” Semanko said of his run for mayor. “This is about our local community.”

Yes, it was indeed a different Semanko who held court with the editorial board. I’ve used this space to criticize Semanko some in the past — most recently when he indulged in craven partisan opportunism after this summer’s failed redistricting effort.

That’s all in the past, says Semanko, should Eagle voters promote him from City Council on Nov. 8. He says he would step down as state GOP chairman — but not because he believes the position constitutes a conflict of interest with a nonpartisan mayor’s job. It is, instead a function of time, and stepping away from the travel and demands of the GOP post.

Semanko would hardly be the first Idaho politico to leave the red-vs.-blue battlefield for the (nominally) nonpartisan world of municipal politics. For example, Dave Bieter left the Idaho House, where he represented Boise’s North End as a Democratic lawmaker, when he was elected mayor in 2003. It’s part of the political reality.

Here’s another element of the reality. Semanko — like Bieter before him — would take to the mayor’s office all the contacts and the baggage accumulated from his partisan political work.

Semanko gives himself credit for helping the city negotiate a cheaper contract on law enforcement with Ada County. Sheriff Gary Raney is a fellow Republican, and I don’t doubt that this helped break the ice. But these things cut both ways. Even in a conservative state and community such as Eagle, Semanko’s no-prisoners party-line paper trail will probably turn some people off.

It’s a point incumbent Mayor Jim Reynolds made, subtly, in a separate interview with the editorial board later that day. Reynolds said Semanko has done a good job on the council, before endeavoring to set the hook. “He postures a little bit,” said Reynolds. “That’s kind of how he is.”

For his part, Semanko takes a swipe or two at Reynolds. Defending the city’s decision to hold the line on the 2011-12 budget, forgoing the 3 percent increase allowed under state law, Semanko questions whether Reynolds is as committed to holding the line on spending. The mayor votes only to break council ties, so Reynolds had no vote on the hold-the-line budget — and he stopped short of calling the move a mistake. “I think it was politically a good thing to do.”

And yet, when it comes to the future of their once burgeoning community, the two sound eerily similar. Said Reynolds: “You’re either growing or you’re dying.” Said Semanko: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

Like so many elections, it comes down to how the candidates position themselves. Appointed in October 2010, and running for office for the first time in his life, Reynolds pledges he will take a business approach to decisions — in contrast to Semanko’s political and lawyerly view of the issues. Semanko says he has tried to maintain his independence in his three years on the council, and would govern the same way as mayor.

“This is my comfort zone,” Semanko said, sounding not at all like a political party heavy.

It will be interesting to see where Eagle voters find their comfort zone.

AUDIO: Listen to the editorial board interviews with Jim Reynolds and
Norm Semanko.

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Sorry...I'll need more than one interview

with the editorial board before I believe that Semanko has suddenly become less partisan or less self-serving. Of course, he tried to sound less partisan in his interview with you. He was trying to get your endorsement! The fact that he didn't see his position as Chairman of the GOP as any conflict of interest tells me a lot. Does he think it is possible to produce quantities of news releases, fundraising letters and commentary designed to do nothing more than make one party look bad and then work in a non-partisan way as Mayor?
Does he still think it is ok to be a registered lobbyist and an elected official at the same time? Does he see a potential for competing interests as he tries to represent the citizens of Eagle at the same time he represents the irrigation districts, canal companies, agro business and public water supply organizations?

Semanko nonpartisan LOL LOL

You got to be kidding. Semanko has been so political for decades. Does a skunk lose its stripe!

I was going to say, does a leopard change its spots

but the sentiment (or, in the case of the skunk, the scent-iment) is the same.

"humble civic servant."

That will continue to humbly be a civic servant for M3. (Spring Valley)

Resign BEFORE you run

For Chairman Semanko to say that he will resign his unpaid post as head of the Idaho GOP if he wins is laughable. If he truly cared about Eagle, he would do so ahead of the election, as well as resign his city council post, so that were he to win, he would not just get to nominate someone else to fill his spot. Since he is suddenly so interested in devoting time to Eagle, perhaps he should also resign his gig as Executive Director and General Counsel of the Idaho Water Users Association, which he is also appears to be a registered lobbyist for, his spot as committee person for the 2012 GOP Convention, and on and on, (Didn't we just boot our last Mayor because he took a second job??) Seriously, does anyone use google? A thirty second search turns up a whole lot of national things that Semanko is interested in. His facebook page never even mentions the word Eagle. Lets face it, Norm wants to move up the GOP ladder, and just wants to use Eagle as a another rung in the ladder.

Given all the "deficiencies" you have brought to our attention..

I can't believe anyone would vote for him --- so what are you worried about? Oh wait, I get your point: few voters are as smart as you are.