Jason Monks of Meridian won a four-person GOP primary in May, collecting 942 votes out of just 2,373 ballots cast.
But even as one of the winners in the GOP’s historic closed primary, Monks’ support for the idea is qualified. He told the Statesman editorial board that he was “very frustrated” during door-to-door campaigning in the spring, as he heard from voters who were staying home because of the closed primary.
Monks says he could support whatever Republicans choose to do in the future. After some hemming and hawing, he said he’d prefer to keep the new primary system, which requires voters to register with the GOP in order to vote.
Monks’ comments reflect what we’re hearing from local Republican legislators and legislative candidates, when we ask them about the closed primary: mixed and lukewarm feelings.
Based on our interviews so far, I’d put several incumbents in the camp favoring a closed primary. That list includes Reps. Marv Hagedorn of Meridian and Cliff Bayer of Boise, both running for Senate, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt of Eagle and Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise. (Toryanski is a qualified supporter; he said he is happy with the closed primary, although he’d prefer allowing unaffiliated voters to participate as well.)
Bayer describes the closed primary as a middle ground: more restrictive than a primary that is open to all comers, but not as restrictive as moving the nominating process to a closed convention. DeMordaunt says that the dire predictions heading into the May 15 primary never came to fruition, and the result was not a purge of moderates.
He’s right about that much. Despite the much-debated change in the rules, this was largely a stay-the-course GOP primary — albeit one with a record low turnout of 24.4 percent.
Still, some key Republican incumbents remain opposed to a closed primary. That list includes Sens. Chuck Winder of Boise, Patti Anne Lodge of Huston, Jim Rice of Caldwell, and Reps. Darrell Bolz of Caldwell and Julie Ellsworth of Boise. That’s a pretty experienced group, and not exactly a bunch of Republicans In Name Only.
But the prevailing sentiment from the candidates, on both sides or on the fence, is that the GOP has the constitutional right to make this call, and, ultimately, the decision is out of the candidates’ hands. Which it is. The future of the primary won’t be decided by the Legislature, but by the state GOP central committee, which has been asked to review the issue.
Can sitting legislators influence the central committee? Of course. I can’t imagine committee members dismissing out of hand the opinions of party members who actually have to run in a closed primary. But legislators who speak out against the closed primary also risk alienating the party members who pushed for this model — voters who may have outsized influence in a low-turnout primary election.
It seems likely that the Idaho GOP will at least review its 2012 elections. Its Super Tuesday presidential caucus will almost certainly come under some scrutiny — especially with Ada County Republicans stinging over the $35,000 cost of holding a countywide caucus at Boise State University’s Taco Bell Arena.
Discussion of the closed primary is sure to continue. Some top Republicans — such as Gov. Butch Otter, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Rep. Mike Simpson — have never warmed to the idea. Further down the ticket, the reviews are all over the map.
The question: Will the skeptics press the issue?