Flipping Idaho

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The following has been reprinted with permission from the Post Register.
This piece was written by the Post Register Editorial Board and was published on January 16, 2019.
The Post Register’s editorial board consists of Publisher Travis Quast, Managing Editor Monte LaOrange and editorial writer Bryan Clark.

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Last week’s Republican winter meeting brought some great news — if you’re a Democrat.

American political parties have traditionally served two main roles: recruiting and supporting candidates, and building a coalition of voters.

The Idaho Republican Party, at its winter meeting last week, took steps toward behaving less like a traditional American political party and more like a Soviet Politburo: monitoring and enforcing adherence to a rigid doctrine codified by an intellectual vanguard.

Mirroring a practice of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee, the state party will begin asking candidates to declare whether they agree with each and every point of the 14-page platform, or to spell out their disagreements in detail. The party will publish these disclosures ahead of the election.

The GOP platform has plenty of mainstream conservative fare: lower taxes, a balanced budget amendment and reducing government spending. It even has points that would attract most Democrats, like support for government transparency.

Then there are the kooky bits. The platform calls for a return to the gold standard, a position opposed by nearly all professional economists because it would cause surging unemployment and unstable prices. And there’s a call to revoke your right to vote in U.S. Senate elections, a position supported by only one-tenth of voters in the West because, unsurprisingly, most like the right to vote.

But Idaho isn’t the U.S.S.R., so expect this measure to elicit more eye rolls than terror. Smart Republican elected officials will toss these questionnaires out with the rest of the junk mail. If the party tries to push elected officials around, it will push itself to the sidelines.

Rather than bend the knee, Republican elected officials may build alternative party-like infrastructure as former Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter did, aligning closely with the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, and forming OtterPAC to provide an alternative campaign fund.

The state party would do well to consider the record of those they model themselves on — the Bonneville GOP, which proposed many of the big rule changes and resolutions. In Bonneville County, where there are seven Republicans for each Democrat, the Bonneville GOP often looks like the minority party. When it takes a stand in a controversial race, the results usually go the other way.

The central committee campaigned energetically against Medicaid expansion. Proposition 2 passed in a landslide.

Its members were vocal opponents of creating the College of Eastern Idaho. Voters overwhelmingly backed CEI.

They campaigned to oust Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. She won.

Under their watchful eye, the balance of the Idaho Falls City Council shifted from conservative to center-left.

Attorney Bryan Smith and former Chairman Doyle Beck funded a PAC that used emails between former GOP Chairman Steve Yates’ wife and the late Sheila Olsen discussing money trouble to attack Yates. Those emails had been pilfered from Olsen’s email by her daughter, Maria Nate, wife of then-Rep. Ron Nate.

After that fact came to light, Rep. Doug Ricks won the primary. Ron Nate may be this year’s “Outstanding Republican Lawmaker,” as he was named last week, but he’s out of the lawmaking business.

If the party follows the Bonneville path, Democrats should rejoice.

It’s hard to imagine that the Gem State could ever go blue, something that has rarely happened since statehood. The Idaho Democratic Party doesn’t have the membership, popularity or acumen to do it. Progressive activists can’t do it. Union membership is as low as it’s ever been, so the labor movement isn’t going to flip the state.

It’s an impossible task, but if anyone is up to the job, it’s the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee. Never underestimate its ability to lose an election.

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