BOISE – Former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, now a state representative from Midvale, launched his campaign for Idaho Secretary of State at stops in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls on Thursday, even as current GOP Secretary of State Ben Ysursa remained undecided about seeking another term.
Denney, a 65-year-old farmer from Midvale, said he’s been “prayerfully considering this move for quite some time … and we have decided that now is the time.”
He served nine terms in the state House of Representatives, including three as speaker, before becoming the first Idaho House speaker to be ousted by his own caucus last year, when he was defeated by Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. Rather than banishing his rival from legislative leadership posts, Bedke made Denney chairman of the House Resources Committee, where this year Denney pushed through resolutions demanding a state takeover of federal public lands in the state.
Denney said if elected, he’d work to stop the state Land Board from acquiring commercial property as part of the state endowment; address unspecified problems in Idaho elections that he said he’s heard about from people around the state; and oppose any move to a vote-by-mail system in Idaho. “Sure vote by mail is easier and it’s cheaper, but we cannot protect the integrity of the ballot,” he said.
Backers muttered “that’s right” and “Amen” as Denney spoke in the state Capitol.
Denney drew a couple dozen supporters to his Boise launch, which he neither announced in advance to the press nor posted on his campaign website. That site hasn’t been updated for more than a year and still shows that he’s speaker of the House.
The Secretary of State is responsible for some of the most closely watched websites in Idaho – the sites on which candidacies and election results are announced, campaign finance reports are posted amid firm deadlines, and more. Asked about his qualifications for that aspect of the job, Denney said, “I can tell you that I don’t think the current Secretary of State does that either. I think he has a staff that does, and certainly I’m not going to make wholesale changes in the staff.” He said the staff does a good job.
Denney said updates to his campaign website would be up “shortly.”
The secretary of state is Idaho’s top election regulator and has a seat on the Land Board, which oversees 2.5 million acres of state endowment land whose proceeds go to benefit Idaho public schools, prisons, mental hospitals and universities.
Ysursa, who has served in the post since 2002 and had been former longtime Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa’s chief deputy since 1974, said he remains uncertain about his political future. “I’ve been in agonizing internal deliberations for quite a while,” Ysursa, 64, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Denney said a key factor prompting him to consider the race was the possibility that Ysursa might not seek re-election, creating an open statewide office. Plus, he said, “I think Secretary of State is a fit for me.”
If Denney were to serve one four-year term as Secretary of State after his many years of legislative service, his state retirement pension would rise from roughly $500 a month to more than $3,600 a month.
The AP reported Thursday that two other Republicans also are considering the race: Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; and Phil McGrane, chief deputy county clerk in Ada County and a 32-year-old attorney. Both said they’d run only if Ysursa doesn’t.
Idaho’s GOP primary is May 20, 2014.