Eye on Boise: Otter says closed primary an imperfect compromise

BOISE – Gov. Butch Otter has signed into law historic changes in Idaho’s election system, requiring, for the first time, that all Idahoans declare their party affiliation to vote in the state’s primary election.

“I felt that that was a compromise effort between the House and the Senate,” Otter said of the closed-primary bill. “With the judge’s ruling, there weren’t very many other alternatives that we felt could meet constitutional muster.”

The Idaho Republican Party sued over Idaho’s open-primary law and won, saying it violated the party’s constitutional right of association by forcing it to allow nonmembers to vote in its primaries.

Otter said he’s “not an advocate of closing the primary,” and said, “In fact, I think the Republican Party has done an outstanding job over the years being able to attract not only members of the Democratic Party but a majority of the independents. … But it was an agreement that was worked out with the House and the Senate and the leadership on both sides.”

Otter also signed legislation to pay $100,000 to the Idaho GOP for its legal costs in suing the state to overturn the current system.

Asked if he thought the new system might dissuade some Idahoans from voting in the primary, Otter said, “I hope it doesn’t.”

He said, “I’ve always been concerned about folks having to register for one party or another, because, you know, I think that’s their personal and their quiet decision and that should be made on their own.” Now, he said, “It may be something, people just say, ‘I don’t want to have to declare what party I want to belong to.’ But this is now the law, this is what the members of the Republican Party fought for, and that’s now where we are.”

Jobless rate still up

Idaho’s jobless rate held steady at 9.7 percent in March, the fourth straight month of record high rates, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. However, there may be a glimmer of good news in the report; according to preliminary estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people at work in Idaho grew faster than the number of people looking for work for the first time in four years.

Delegation splits 3-1

Idaho’s all-GOP congressional delegation split 3-1 against the spending cuts bill that passed both the House and Senate this week. Second District Rep. Mike Simpson voted in favor of the bill, while 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch all voted against it.

The measure, which includes a rider Simpson helped insert lifting endangered species protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana, passed the Senate on an 81-19 vote and the House 260-167. Crapo, Risch and Labrador said the budget cuts didn’t go far enough.

Crazy, or sane?

Labrador appeared on CNN’s “Situation Room” program last week in a panel with three other tea-party-backed freshman Republicans, Reps. Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, Tom Graves of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona. CNN said it picked “one from each corner of the country,” and was surprised to find the four split on the budget-cuts vote: Two were planning to vote in favor, one against, and Labrador at the time was leaning against.

Labrador agreed with the others that the freshmen have made a difference, and helped bump up the level of cuts being contemplated – though they want more. “When we started the debate, the initial offer was $31 billion in cuts. Some of us spoke up and said that it needed to be more,” he told the program. “So we actually got it to $61 billion in cuts. And now we’re getting $38, $39 billion in cuts. We’re going to vote against these things, but I think we would have had much less.”

At the close of the interview, the four were asked, “So are you crazy, or are you really the sanest people in America?” Labrador responded, “If being fiscally responsible is extreme and crazy, then I think I am.”

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