BOISE – Longtime Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa threw his support to Phil McGrane Tuesday in the four-way GOP race for the office Ysursa will be retiring from at the end of the year.
“After 40 years in this office – three terms as secretary and 28 years as a deputy to Pete Cenarrusa – I kinda have an attachment to that place,” Ysursa told a boisterous crowd of more than 60 McGrane supporters gathered in the Statehouse rotunda. “So I’m very concerned and very interested in who my successor is going to be.”
Ysursa said he’s had lots of inquiries from people, “just out on the street, at the golf course, wherever,” as to which of the candidates is best. “In my opinion, the individual who has best demonstrated to me the requisite skills to be a great secretary of state, and to carry on the office’s reputation … of fairness, efficiency and service, that gentleman without a doubt to me is Phil McGrane,” Ysursa said to cheers.
Ysursa pointed to McGrane’s years of election experience as chief deputy Ada County clerk, and his legal background as an attorney (Ysursa, too, is an attorney). McGrane, he said, “possesses the competence, the integrity and the character to lead the secretary of state’s office in the future, and that is why I’m endorsing Phil McGrane for secretary of state.”
The other three GOP candidates are former House Speaker Lawerence Denney of Midvale, former Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise and former Sen. Evan Frasure of Pocatello. The winner of the GOP contest in May will face Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise in November.
McGrane called the endorsement “very significant,” saying, “We’ve had so much trust in that office. … Ben has been the cornerstone of that for many years. You look at secretary of state offices around the country – they don’t have the same reputation that our secretary of state has. So I think it means a lot to the citizens of Idaho. There’s a reason Ben’s the top vote-getter in the state. I look forward to following in his footsteps.”
Among the supporters in the crowd was Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who said, “He’s the guy that’s always in front of our State Affairs Committee the last six or seven years, talking about election laws. … He was the one everybody else was asking to do that because of his skills. You can just tell he’s very honest and very forthright.”
Tuesday’s announcement followed a big event over the weekend for Denney, who brought in several stars from “Duck Dynasty,” the A&E reality show, for a campaign fundraiser Saturday night at the Idaho Center. The Idaho Statesman reported that “several thousand” people attended the event at the 12,000-seat arena.
“Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson, clutching a Bible, told the crowd, “When this goes, your freedom goes with it.”
Meanwhile, Woodings, who is unopposed on the Democratic ticket, sent out an email noting that Denney sold tickets for the campaign event for $47. “Why is that important? Because Idaho’s sunshine law requires candidates to report every contribution over $50,” she wrote. “Contributions under $50 don’t have to be disclosed. That means no one who attends this event will appear on Denney’s sunshine report. So why would someone who wants to be secretary of state – the very person in charge of upholding our sunshine laws – try to skirt the system?”
She invited her supporters to send her $51 contributions – exceeding the reporting limit and requiring that the donations be disclosed.
McGrane has built his campaign on support from the state’s elected county clerks; four of them co-chair his campaign. Ada County Clerk Chris Rich said, “He’s recruited and trained thousands of poll workers, he’s developed security systems to protect the integrity of your ballots, and he’s had those who commit voter fraud prosecuted. Phil McGrane has the strength of character to enforce Idaho’s election laws, and he knows how to say ‘no.’”
All four Republican candidates have been actively campaigning; Frasure is a former longtime state senator and real estate broker and current high school government teacher who ran unsuccessfully against Ysursa in 2002, and Toryanski is a former one-term senator, deputy attorney general and career military officer.
Idaho’s primary election is May 20.