Rep. Jim Stoicheff convinced more than a third of the House it was a bad idea, but legislation to allow elected officials to switch parties won House passage Friday and was sent to Gov. Phil Batt.
Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Hayden, said, “Really, to me it’s a freedom of speech issue, the ability of people to change parties.”
But Stoicheff argued, “We don’t have party registration in this state. The only way we have to know your taste or political choice is when you become a candidate.”
The bill was proposed by Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden, after the Idaho Supreme Court overturned Kootenai County commissioners’ appointment of a new county assessor. Former Assessor Tom Moore, a Democrat, died in office. But shortly before his death, he switched to the Republican party in an effort to ensure the succession of his chief deputy, a Republican.
Vacancies in elected offices, by Idaho law, are filled from nominations by the previous office-holder’s political party.
Commissioners picked a candidate who, although a Democrat, was on a list submitted by the Republican Party. The court said they should have used the Democratic Party’s list.
The bill, if signed by the governor, will allow elected officials to switch parties three months after the election. They could switch only once per elected term.
Stoicheff said the bill would allow the voters’ will to be thwarted by having a different party take over the majority on, say, a three-member county commission.
“You’re in the office because the people vote for you, and sometimes they vote for you because of the party that’s after your name,” he said. “There are places in this state where you can’t be elected if you have a ‘D’ after your name, even if you can walk on water.”
Alltus tried a humorous approach in debate on the bill, saying, “I would like to become a Democrat, and there is just no provision in the law to allow me to do that.”
Rep. John Tippets, R-Bennington, the Republican caucus chairman, drew laughter by responding, “I’m going to support this because I’d really like to help the gentleman from (District) 3 out.”
The bill passed 43-24. Voting yes were Reps. Alltus; Jim Clark, R-Hayden; Wayne Meyer, R-Rathdrum; Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Larry Watson, D-Wallace.
Voting no were Reps. John Campbell, R-Sandpoint; Chuck Cuddy, D-Orofino; June Judd, D-St. Maries; Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, and Stoicheff.
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