A former GOP state lawmaker has launched a new political action committee to encourage Independent and Democratic voters to register as Republicans so they can participate in Idaho's closed GOP primary election.
Kathy Skippen said Wednesday that her group — called Moderates Are Taking Hold — will help educate Independent and Democratic voters on the importance of casting a vote in the GOP primary because Republican candidates rarely face competitive opponents in the general election.
"People who consider themselves as moderate or Independent have to understand they're getting played," Skippen said. "We've got to take the middle back."
The Idaho Republican Party closed the state's GOP primary nearly five years ago so that only registered party members can participate. The party's more stringently conservatives have long argued that Republicans need to weed out unfaithful members. Other supporters of the closed election process add that primary elections are party events and party nominees should be selected by its members.
While moving to a closed primary has not resulted in a steep drop in voter turnout, critics counter it has forced candidates to woo the state's strongest conservatives and ignore moderates.
"I still consider myself a Republican, but I'm angry that ultra-conservatives took my party away from me and I'm angry that nobody else is willing to stand up and fight to get it back," Skippen said.
Skippen served in the Idaho House from 2002 to 2006 before being ousted by Steve Thayne, who now serves in the Idaho Senate. At the time, Thayne campaigned he was more conservative than Skippen because she voted against the Idaho constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and helped carry a multi-million dollar infrastructure funding plan.
Skippen said she considered running against Thayne in the 2016 primary, but decided against it after being warned she was too moderate. Instead, she has closed her legislative campaign account and moved the remaining $5,000 into her PAC.
Skippen's effort is one the few public efforts to woo more unaffiliated and left-leaning voters to claim the GOP registration. It's unclear, however, how many Idahoans have privately chosen to do so since the primary closed
Idaho has roughly 396,500 registered Republicans, 303,000 unaffiliated voters and 88,000 Democratic voters as of October, according to the secretary of state's office.
In comparison, Idaho had 239,710 registered Republicans, 439,641 unaffiliated voters and 56,024 Democratic voters in 2013.