With the Sunday’s Republican Party deadline closing in, members of the Idaho Legislature’s two chambers had yet to agree Thursday on a solution to address the presidential primary election that legislators unintentionally eliminated earlier this year.
Both chambers of the Idaho Legislature – the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate – have separately advanced petitions calling for a special session to restore a presidential primary election.
But the two petitions are at odds with each other. Under the Idaho Legislature’s new power to call itself back into session, it takes a petition signed by at least 60% of the members of both the Idaho House and Idaho Senate to convene a special session.
Gov. Brad Little also has the authority to call a special session, but so far has not done so.
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The two competing proposals are:
But since the petitions are different, they have not triggered a special session. If legislators can meet the 60% threshold from both the Idaho Senate and Idaho House on the same petition, then that would officially trigger a legislative session within 15 days.
On Thursday, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said in a telephone interview that there is still time for the Idaho Legislature to come in for a special session by this weekend. Crane said he has met with Little on the issue, and legislators are working on gaining support for Clow’s petition in the Idaho Senate.
“We can come in tomorrow. We can come in Saturday. Because the RNC is not open Sunday, we could probably even come in Sunday,” Crane said. “I think that we should come in and do the work. The Legislature isn’t the one that messed this up. (Secretary of State) Phil McGrane drafted a bill that removed the presidential primary election. I think he has an obligation to own it and fix the mistake.”
In an interview Thursday, McGrane said he and Crane “see things differently.” McGrane said he worked hard during the end of the legislative session to fix the mistake in House Bill 138 by bringing forward a so-called trailer bill, Senate Bill 1186, which was designed to add language necessary to actually move the primary election to May and allow candidates to file to run for president in Idaho. That bill died in Crane’s committee on March 30 after Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon spoke out against Senate Bill 1186 and none of the legislators on the committee made a motion to advance Senate Bill 1186.
The Idaho Legislature then adjourned for the year days later on April 6 without fixing the issue.
“Because there had been overwhelming support for House Bill 138, we anticipated we had worked through all of the challenges and they had been resolved,” McGrane said Thursday. “ I don’t think any of us intended to be in this situation.”
After the session ended, the Idaho Republican Party voted to conduct a presidential nominating caucus on the first Saturday in March if the Idaho Legislature does not take action by Oct. 1 to restore the presidential primary election in March.
McGrane said Thursday he continues to support the original intention of House Bill 138. He said moving the primary back to May would save the state about $2.7 million every four years and likely increase voter turnout. McGrane also said he favors the ability for Idahoans to vote in a presidential primary instead of a caucus, but he said it’s a decision for the Idaho Legislature and the political parties to hammer out at this point.
“Rep. Crane, more than anyone else, has made it clear that this is a legislative decision,” McGrane said.
As far as prospects for a special legislative session, Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, said he doesn’t think 60% of the members of the Idaho Senate will sign Clow’s petition, which would trigger a special session.
“I don’t think it will happen for sure,” Herndon said in a telephone interview Thursday. “We need 21 (members) in the Senate. I’ve got 10 who have signed it for sure, and the Democrats are not signing it. That leaves 18 Republicans, and they are all the Republicans who signed (Senate President Pro Tem Chuck) Winder’s petition. I don’t see them signing this petition.”
Herndon told the Sun he signed Clow’s petition and opposed Winder’s petition.
Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said Thursday she hasn’t been approached officially with Clow’s petition.
“I’m the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate and nobody has approached me about signing anything,” Wintrow said in a telephone interview late Thursday afternoon.
Wintrow said the seven Democrats in the Idaho Senate don’t have the numbers to push Clow’s petition over the top, so Wintrow said it is a moot point until 14 Republican senators sign Clow’s petition. If Republicans can accumulate the 14 signatures, Wintrow said Democrats would then meet as a caucus to decide on moving forward.
Wintrow also said legislators have known for months there was a problem with the presidential primary election and legislators should not be rushing at the last minute before Sunday’s deadline to resolve the problem.
“My Republican colleagues across the aisle got us into this mess and we have already signed a petition to do a consolidated primary in May, which the majority of the people in the Idaho Legislature voted for in House Bill 138,” Wintrow said.
Why didn’t we finish this up weeks and weeks ago,” Wintrow added. “Why now, because it’s never good to make policy decisions of this magnitude in a rushed nature. We already had this ready to go weeks ago.”
Idaho Republican Party says it is prepared to move forward with presidential caucus
Herndon said Sunday’s deadline is the deadline to notify the Republican National Committee whether the Idaho Republican Party will hold a presidential nominating caucus or a presidential primary election.
If the Idaho Legislature doesn’t act by then, Herndon said the Republican Party will move forward with a caucus on March 2.
Herndon, who is also a member of the Idaho Republican Party’s state central committee, said plans are in the works for a “firehouse style” caucus, where there would not be more than one round of voting. Herndon said party officials are working to offer as many caucus sites in each county as the Republican Party’s county central committees can handle. Presidential candidates will be able to record a video message to play at the caucus sites and the results would be tabulated by hand on paper ballots at each caucus site, Herndon said. The Republican Party’s county chairs would then phone the results to Moon, the Idaho Republican Party’s state chairwoman, and the ballots themselves would be transported to the state party for verification, Herndon.
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The caucus would likely begin at 10 a.m. March 2 and everyone would have to physically attend in person – there would be no absentee voting and no exceptions for members of the armed forces, people who are working, people who are traveling, people who are ill or for people who do not have the physical ability or transportation to attend.
“It’s regrettable that we will not be able to do absentee ballots, so people will have to schedule it in ahead of time,” Herndon said.
“We’re definitely interested in getting as many Republicans to participate as possible,” Herndon added.
State election data shows that far more voters participate in a primary election than a caucus. For example, during the 2012 Republican presidential caucus, 44,672 people participated, the Spokesman-Review reported. But when the Republican Party switched to a primary election during the next presidential election in 2016, turnout increased to more than 225,000 voters, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.
On Thursday, Moon and Herndon told the Sun that Sunday’s deadline is not flexible. In a written statement released by the Idaho Republican Party, Moon said Sunday is the deadline for the states to select delegates to the national convention and provide the secretary of the Republican National Committee with copies of the plans and a list of state laws governing the selection of delegates.
The Idaho Republican Party said it has already submitted its plans under Rule 16F to the Republican National Committee, and no changes may be made after Sunday’s deadline.
“The Idaho Republican State Central Committee adopted a resolution at our June meeting calling for the legislature to repeal HB138,” Moon said in a written statement Thursday. “We appreciate Rep. Clow’s petition to repeal HB138 which would reinstate the March presidential primary, and support the petition in the House to do so. We remain hopeful that the Legislature can come together to resolve this issue and the Idaho Senate will agree to take action with their House colleagues to restore the March Presidential Primary so that more Idaho voters can participate in the process. If the March presidential primary is reinstated before the October 1 deadline to submit our plan to the RNC, the party will proceed with the March primary election and there will be no reason to caucus.”