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Eye on Boise: Low turnouts fuel incumbent losses in primary

BOISE – Widely varying turnout around the state meant that of the six legislative incumbents defeated in the May 20 primary, two were turned out of office by just tiny slices of the electorates in their districts.

The lowest-turnout races that dumped incumbents were in North Idaho. Longtime Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the Senate Education Committee chairman, was defeated by activist Mary Souza with just 3,440 people casting ballots, or 15 percent of registered voters. Freshman Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, was beaten by Eric Redman with 4,736 people voting, or 18.5 percent of the registered voters in the district.

Goedde’s district has 22,545 registered voters; Morse’s has 25,604.

GOP primary voters also ousted longtime Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover; Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth; longtime Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis; and freshman Rep. Doug Hancey, R-Rexburg.

But those races saw considerably higher turnout. Hancey’s race had close to the state average turnout in the race, at 25 percent of registered voters. Barrett’s had 32 percent – 8,356 total ballots cast – in her defeat by rancher Merrill Beyeler; and Pearce’s saw 31.5 percent turnout in his defeat by Abby Lee.

In Eskridge’s race, there was 29 percent turnout and a total of 7,166 ballots cast as voters chose tea party challenger Sage Dixon to replace the longtime lawmaker and joint budget committee member. Eskridge noted two factors: Tea party opponents had been organizing and campaigning against the incumbents in his district for months; and the ballot included two hotly contested local levies, one for West Bonner schools that passed by 22 votes, and one to expand the Bonners Ferry library, which failed.

“I think a lot of the people that came out in opposition to the levy voted against us,” he said. Incumbent Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, won her primary by a 487-vote margin; retiring Rep. Eric Anderson’s race saw a tea party candidate, Heather Scott, victorious in the GOP primary over Stephen Snedden, who’d been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter.

Eskridge said he also heard from some of his supporters that they weren’t willing to vote in the primary because they didn’t like being forced to publicly register their party affiliation under the GOP’s closed primary rule. “One said, ‘I refused to sign my name as a Republican, even though that’s what I am,’ ” he said.

Denney responds

Rep. Lawerence Denney, the Republican candidate for Idaho secretary of state, sent out a guest opinion last week responding to an earlier one from Democratic opponent Holli Woodings. His opponent had ripped Denney’s hiring of a private attorney with public funds to represent the Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee. Denney called Wooding’s piece “an insult to the people of Idaho,” and charged that she had her facts wrong.

“My opponent’s statement makes several false claims,” Denney wrote. “Chief among them is the charge that I bypassed committee members by hiring private counsel to determine how Idaho could best seek to recover its public lands from the Federal Government. That assertion is patently false and my opponent knows it.” Denney said he made the decision with his co-chairman, Sen. Chuck Winder, along with the speaker of the House and the president pro-tem of the Senate, and that’s what legislative rules required.

He also noted that he wasn’t a party to the lawsuit to close Idaho’s GOP primary; defended his unsuccessful lawsuit to jettison his chosen member on Idaho’s citizen redistricting committee; said “many legal scholars” support pursuing transfer of federal public lands to states; and defended taxpayers’ payment of $100,000 for legal fees to attorney Christ Troupis for the closed-primary lawsuit.

“This Democrat does not denigrate the fee claims of the attorneys for the gay marriage proponents against the State, even though the case never even went to trial and their fees are almost $500,000,” Denney wrote. “It seems that this Democrat is only critical of Republicans defending their Constitutional rights. Unlike my opponent, I believe that everyone’s constitutional rights are entitled to a proper defense.”

Eighth city passes ordinance

Victor, a town of 2,000 in eastern Idaho near the Wyoming border, has become the eighth Idaho city to pass an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The town’s City Council voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance last week; it protects against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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