- Caleb Walsh illustration
For close to 50 years, Idaho has elected Republicans to the office of Secretary of State. In our deeply "red" state this is hardly surprising, but what is notable is how little their party affiliation has mattered.
Republicans Pete Cenarrusa and Ben Ysursa have run the office of Secretary of State with a deep commitment to nonpartisanship, ensuring that elections are run fairly and that every citizen's right to vote is respected. In doing so, they have become some of the most popular elected officials in Idaho's history.
Idahoans have come to take this nonpartisan approach to our elections for granted. It's a fundamental expectation we have for the office and it's assumed anyone running for the position would, of course, continue the tradition of looking out for all Idaho voters, regardless of their party.
In fact, this is so ingrained that both Democrat Holli Woodings and Republican Lawerence Denney have publicly and repeatedly pledged to follow the nonpartisan example set by Cenarrusa and Ysursa. If we could count on both of them to truly follow that pledge, there wouldn't be much at stake in the race for Secretary of State this November.
For her part, Woodings appears to be sincerely committed to open and fair elections. She's emphasized increasing voter participation, transparency around campaign contributions and making sure voters have the information they need to make an informed decision. (All three were also priorities for Ysursa and Cenarrusa.) She's demonstrated her commitment to these goals by creating a new election phone app called "IdaVotes" as part of her campaign — it provides fair election information, even including a link to her opponent's campaign website.
Denney has different policy priorities. He says the most important issue is "ballot security" and has proposed scanning voters' fingerprints before allowing them to vote. He also wants to shrink the Secretary of State's job by eliminating primary elections and letting Republican and Democratic Party bosses choose their nominees without interference from the voters.
Just as troubling as his radical ideas on how to run Idaho's elections (at least those elements he plans on eliminating) is Denney's partisan record. His Republican colleagues tossed him from the Speakership of the Idaho House after he was found to be untrustworthy for the position, punishing his own members for raising legitimate ethics issues or casting votes based on their conscience rather than his whims.
He also personally stopped a bipartisan bill to reform lawmakers' pensions when they take higher office — an action that now means he has the opportunity to pocket payments of more than $70,000 a year from the state of Idaho forever, if he wins this election. By the way, at the same time he was protecting his own future payday, he opposed increasing pay by even 1 percent for state employees.
It's true that Republicans have occupied the office of Secretary of State since the late 1960s. But if Idahoans are going to continue our tradition of fair and open elections, the best thing to do isn't to vote for establishing fingerprinting at the ballot box. Instead, it's to vote for Democrat Holli Woodings. ♦
John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He has been active in protecting Idaho's environment, expanding LGBT rights and the Idaho Republican Party.