My story Sunday about how Idaho's new party registration law has upset legally required partisan balance on gubernatorial boards and commissions prompted a conversation with former Republican Sen. Rod Beck, a key force behind the law.
Beck was the original plaintiff in first of two federal lawsuits against GOP Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, which prompted the Legislature to allow the GOP to limit its primary to only registered Republicans. Gov. Butch Otter long opposed the change, saying decades of GOP dominance were proof the open primary worked. But after Beck won in court, Otter relented and signed the bill that took effect for the 2012 primary.
Party registration is now a public record. A review of the 117 members of boards, commissions and councils that require partisan balance, found that 10 switched affiliations to vote in the primary. In the case of three boards — Aging, Economic Advisory and Environmental Quality — the balance was upset.
Both Otter and Ysursa said tipping the boards was an unintended consequence of the law. But Beck said the governor and secretary got their history wrong.
"There are other purposes of party declaration and this is one of them," Beck said. "Maybe they (Otter and Ysursa) haven't thought that through because they were opposing this all along."
Added Beck: "Everything we're talking about here was an anticipated event. It was not an unintended consequence."
Beck said that during oral arguments to U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, plaintiffs said party registration would weed out appointees who served on boards as independents, when they actually were Republicans. Beck noted that Democrats have long charged that some Republicans have been called "independents" to give GOP governors more like-minded appointees.
"We were looking to demonstrate to Winmill that it would strengthen the parties and be fair to all parties," Beck said. Winmill, he noted, was a Democrat before his appointment by President Clinton.
Otter concedes the boards may not be properly constituted and is working with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on legal issues. Ysursa said the 2013 Legislature should take up the matter.
Beck, a former Senate majority leader, said he doesn't think current board members should be removed. But he said the law should be amended to require appointees to give up their posts if they change party declaration.
"I would strengthen it to say that if you're going to be on a board or commission, you can't change your registration without resigning from the board," Beck said. "If you change your registration you are no longer able to hold this position. Period."
Beck said talk of relaxing Republican Party rules to allow independents to vote in the GOP primary in 2014 is getting nowhere. The issue was discussed briefly at the June state convention and the party voted to study the matter. Notifying Ysursa of any change must happen by November 2013.
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