GOP musters election case
Open primary hurts it, party contends; state study differs
Here’s what the Idaho Republican Party considers proof that the state’s open primaries violate its constitutional rights: Too many conservative Republicans are losing to moderate Republicans.
In a stack of affidavits and documentation submitted as part of a federal court case, the party contends that crossover voting by independents and Democrats in GOP primaries is the only explanation for those victories; in one case, the party argues that a twice-elected GOP lawmaker, Stan Bastian, was actually a Democrat in disguise.
Bastian disagrees, and so does the state, which hired two professors to do extensive studies that concluded Idaho is the most one-party-dominated state in the nation and there’s no evidence crossover voting has affected its election outcomes at all. Instead, the current election system has resulted in a highly polarized state Legislature in which lawmakers generally vote along party lines, the professors found, and all GOP lawmakers identified in the lawsuit as “liberals” were actually “in the mainstream of Republicans in the state of Idaho.”
Targeted in the lawsuit is Idaho’s open primary system, which lets voters cast ballots without requiring proof of party membership, as in closed primaries.
The Idaho Republican Party sued in 2008 to try to force closed primaries.
Last fall, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ordered the party to prove its claims that crossover voting by those outside the party was skewing election results and violating the party’s First Amendment right to free association; he’s scheduled a trial in October to review both sides’ evidence.
One-term state Rep. Henry Kulczyk, R-Eagle, in an affidavit, contends that his 2004 primary election loss to Bastian was the doing of the Democrats. In its own expert reports, submitted by Duke University professor Michael Munger and conservative activist David Ripley, the party suggests Bastian was an example of a “Trojan horse” candidate, a case where “a candidate with core ideological beliefs more appropriate for one party signs up as a candidate in a primary for the other party.” The state’s experts found no evidence of that.
Bastian, who served 16 years on the Eagle City Council before being elected to the House and then going on to be elected to a term in the state Senate, dismissed Kulczyk’s charge. “I’ve never been a Democrat,” he said. “I believe that I appealed to more Republican voters than he did.… I have a more moderate stance, a more reasonable one, and I think that that serves the Republican Party well.”
He said he thought the lawsuit was “a mistake,” and that narrowing the pool of GOP candidates to just those with the most conservative ideology would hurt a party that’s been highly successful in Idaho. “I would think the Democrats would be jumping up and down for joy to see the state go in that direction,” he said.
Bastian said he first ran for the Legislature after people in his district, including former Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill – now GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s state parks director – urged him to take on Kulczyk, nicknamed “Red-Light Henry” in the district for his frequent “no” votes. “They felt that he was too far right,” Bastian said. “Some people felt, in fact, that he was an embarrassment to the 14th District.”
The party’s arguments also cite primary election losses by conservative candidates Curtis Bowers in 2008, Rod Beck in 2004 and 2006, Dennis Mansfield in 2002 and 2006, and a failed primary challenge by Gregg Vance of Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, in 2004 as evidence of crossover voting skewing elections, along with several others.
Ripley wrote that he found “a prevalent pattern of Democrat crossover voting designed to produce more liberal members of the Idaho Legislature,” and said, “Idaho’s current open primary system invites such Democrat activism in order to impact public policy.”
Bowers, who had been appointed to the state House by Gov. Otter though he was the third choice of the local Republican Party central committee, made waves while in office by publishing an article detailing his conspiracy theories about communists, feminists and gays. When he stood for election for the first time at the end of his partial term, he was handily defeated by another Republican.
“During my campaigning, I met many Democrats who specifically told me they would be voting in our primary for my moderate opponent,” Bowers said in an affidavit. He added, “Open primaries have affected legislative policies adopted by the state Legislature. Many of those elected as Republicans have voting records more aligned with the Democratic Party.”
The two professors, Andrew Martin of Washington University and Kyle Saunders of Colorado State University, studied every roll-call vote cast in the Idaho Legislature from 2003 to 2008 and found that, to the contrary, all of Idaho’s GOP lawmakers voted more conservatively than the state’s Democratic lawmakers. The only very small overlap was in the House, where a couple of conservative Democrats overlapped the most liberal Republicans in voting records.
In the 2005-’06 session, Bastian’s House voting record was more conservative than six of his GOP colleagues and all of the House Democrats; in the 2007-’08 Senate, he was near the middle, voting more conservatively than 11 of his GOP Senate colleagues and than all the Democrats.
Schroeder, whom the professors showed had the most liberal voting record of all GOP senators from 2003 to 2008, still voted more conservatively than every Democratic senator in every session.
The Idaho GOP also submitted a poll conducted in January that showed “a significant number of Idaho primary voters who do not consider themselves to be Republicans have voted in GOP primaries.” The state’s experts discounted the poll, saying its methodology was flawed. The party also submitted an analysis by Ripley saying crossover voting was evident when more votes were cast in legislative races than top-of-ticket races, but the professors said he neglected to consider other factors, making his conclusion invalid.
“Idaho is the least electorally competitive state in the United States,” the two professors wrote, noting that both houses of the Idaho Legislature have been controlled by the Republican Party since 1959. “The open primary has obviously not been much of a detriment to the Idaho Republican Party.”