Robert Ehlert: GOP suffers whirlwind of closed primary

Idaho StatesmanMarch 9, 2014 

Webster’s online dictionary defines irony as “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to be funny.” Or, in a slightly different context, irony is “a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected.”

Today I am having an exceptionally strange and funny moment thinking about the extreme irony of some Republican candidates strategizing to escape the frustrating consequences/circumstances of these three words: Closed Republican Primary. This is the present status brought about by the Republican party bosses in 2011, which we Idahoans began living with in 2012 elections.

Understanding this and going with the best way forward, Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian — opponents in the May 20 primary for governor — are sending messages to the base and political shout-outs to make plans to crash the party, so to speak.

“NEXT FRIDAY, March 14, is the last day you can change your party affiliation to Republican in order to vote in the May 20 Republican Primary,” Fulcher wrote in an email Wednesday. “This deadline is fast approaching, so please make sure you take care of this as soon as you can. We don’t want to see any voters turned away at the polls on election day.”

No, we don’t want to see voters turned away, even though that’s exactly what people such as Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and former Senate Majority Leader Rod Beck seemed to be shooting for when a faction of the party sued the state to get the closed primary they always wanted.

There will be no extra charge for the extra irony, but many of the people who pushed for the closed primary, including Beck, are supporting Fulcher, who is making come-hither overtures to — ewww! — Democrats.

Perhaps it is beginning to dawn on the proponents of a Closed Republican Primary that it has its shortcomings.

Besides being politically inbred, the closed primary is an added expense (and arguably ought to be paid for by Republicans for its exclusivity). It is possible for some of the 57,000 Democrats, 3,400 Libertarians and 1,700 Constitution Party members who would consider switching that they won’t know who else is on the ballot because their deadline to switch parties is the same as that for candidates to declare their intentions. It should be noted that none of this affects the 440,000 Idahoans who are “unaffiliated.” They can march to the polls and be Republicans-For-A-Day.

But no one among the Republicans is letting on that there is any irony.

Beck told the Statesman’s Dan Popkey that the aim of the closed primary was to keep Democrats and other non-Republicans from helping nominate GOP candidates. “We wanted Republicans to choose Republican candidates,” Beck said Thursday. “Obviously, we don’t want people switching back and forth all the time, but we allowed people to change affiliation.”

How generous. How American to make such allowances.

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson told the Statesman that he recognizes that “when rules are made, people maneuver within the rules to accommodate their own interests. It’s human nature.”

In my mind, maneuvering ought to be Standard Operating Procedure. Everybody knows there is strategic crossover voting in elections, and especially primaries.

So what?

Choice is not irony, it is democracy.

© 2014 Idaho Statesman

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman’s editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service