Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko is defending the GOP's historic closed primary.
And, in so doing, he steps close to an Idaho political third rail: the Boise State-Idaho football feud.
Here's an excerpt from a guest opinion distributed today:
"To help better explain why the Idaho Republican Party supported such a change (to a closed primary), it might help to imagine a rivalry football game between the Boise State Broncos and the Idaho Vandals (unfortunately, imagination is all we are left with in this rivalry these days) in which Coach Peterson selected the starting lineup for the Vandals, and Coach Akey selected the starting lineup for the Broncos. You would say that is crazy! But that is precisely what has happened in Idaho primary elections for almost 40 years."
Imaginary rivalry? That aside isn't going to sit too well with U of I faithful, still sore that the Broncos and Vandals are not scheduled to play each other in the future.
(Small world note: Semanko's second-in-command, executive director Jonathan Parker, is a U of I alum who played for the Vandals in the late 1990s, back when the U of I and BSU renewed their rivalry on an annual basis. Parker says Semanko is a fellow Vandal — and says he thinks his boss was simply lamenting the fact that the U of I-BSU series is on indefinite hiatus.)
But more significantly, the Semanko football analogy isn't quite accurate. It is still possible for registered Republicans to switch teams and vote in a Democratic primary — although voters' party registration and primary ballot selection will both be matters of public record. However, as Semanko correctly notes, only registered Republicans will be able to vote in the GOP primary.
Here, in full, is the Semanko guest opinion (edited to correct spelling of Chris Petersen's name):
A vast majority of Idahoans believe that our nation has been blessed with a unique set of individual rights and freedoms available to all. We believe in the principles of limited government, lower taxes and personal responsibility. We do not agree with the direction in which president Obama wants to take this nation.
Just over two months after holding the first-ever Idaho Republican Party Presidential Caucus and fielding a record number of Republican candidates for the 105 seats in the state Legislature, Idaho Republicans will be able to carry this energy, enthusiasm, and momentum into the May 15 primary election and make our voices heard. We will have the right to select candidates who represent our values without interference from other parties or special interest groups for the first time in nearly 40 years.
By declaring the open primary system unconstitutional, Idaho's federal district court upheld the Idaho Republican Party’s vital First Amendment right to free association. Beginning this year, Idaho Republicans will be choosing Republican candidates who will best carry the Republican Party banner in the general election in November. This is a fundamental constitutional right and a cornerstone of our political freedoms. This right has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and embraced by numerous other states.
To help better explain why the Idaho Republican Party supported such a change, it might help to imagine a rivalry football game between the Boise State Broncos and the Idaho Vandals (unfortunately, imagination is all we are left with in this rivalry these days) in which Coach Petersen selected the starting lineup for the Vandals, and Coach Akey selected the starting lineup for the Broncos. You would say that is crazy! But that is precisely what has happened in Idaho primary elections for almost 40 years. Non-GOP voters regularly switched over and voted in the Republican primary since they know their parties have difficulties electing their own candidates. In fact, a survey conducted in 2010 by a professional pollster found that almost 40 percent of non-GOP voters in Idaho admitted to having voted in a Republican primary. This was just further evidence of the need for a change to Idaho’s open primary system.
We are an open and inclusive party and welcome any like-minded Idahoan to join the Republican Party and participate in our candidate selection process. Even at the polls, those who are unaffiliated with another party may still affiliate as Republicans before voting in the primary. We simply ask, and have a right to expect, that members of other political parties will not choose our candidates for us.
So join with us and make your voice heard in the Republican primary elections on May 15 by electing Republican candidates who are truly representative of the values that we as Idahoans cherish. Our nation cannot take four more years of Barack Obama and his disastrous policies; please stand with us to defeat Obama, Pelosi and Harry Reid to ensure that our great country returns to what our founding fathers envisioned – the shining light on the hill for the rest of the world to see. On to victory in 2012!