BOISE – Among the four GOP candidates facing off for the chance to become Idaho’s next Secretary of State, the three with experience in elective office made it clear in a televised debate last night that they see the one who lacks that as the front-runner.
Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney and former state Sens. Evan Frasure and Mitch Toryanski heaped criticisms on chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, the youngest candidate in the race and the one who’s been endorsed by retiring Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and many of Idaho’s 44 county clerks.
“I didn’t accept any endorsements from (county) clerks,” Frasure said. “I think it’s inappropriate. … They are the referees. They need to stay out of partisan elections, clerks do.”
County clerks, who oversee elections in their counties, are partisan elected officials in Idaho.
Toryanski said, “Unfortunately, Mr. McGrane put them in a very bad position. He persuaded them to use their position and their title to support his campaign,” while also advocating that the Secretary of State be fair and non-partisan in handling elections. “Phil says one thing but when it benefits him, he does another, and that bothers me,” Toryanski said.
McGrane responded, “I’m honored to have the support of Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and the majority of the clerks throughout the state.” He said, “It’s because of the great people who oversee this system that we put so much faith in it.”
The debate, sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho and broadcast statwide on Idaho Public Television, was part of the “Idaho Debates” leading up to Tuesday’s primary election.
McGrane drew fire from his opponents when he said he opposed the closed Republican primary, saying, “We need to have as many people participate as possible – our republic is stronger for having people engage.”
Toryanski said, “For instance a Democrat, somebody who wants to defeat the Republican Party, somebody who wants to see its demise – Mr. McGrane is inviting them to help the Republicans choose their nominees.”
Both Denney and Frasure spoke out in favor of the closed primary. “Parties have a right to do that,” Frasure said.
Denney said, “Even though the state of Idaho is running this, this is not an election, this is a nomination process.”
Denney, Frasure and Toryanksi also spoke approvingly of requiring photo ID to vote; Idaho requires that, but also allows a voter without ID to sign an affidavit. McGrane said Idaho’s law works well, but he agrees with recent comments from Sen. Rand Paul that the Republican Party has gone too far with voter ID laws and other measures that create obstacles to voting.
Frasure retorted, “We’ve watched the participation rate drop for 30 years as we’ve made it easier and easier and easier. … I want informed voters. I think it takes a little effort to get off your backside and go vote on Election Day. I have no problem with that at all.”
Toryanski also took aim at the current Secretary of State’s office under Ysursa. He said lawyers, accountants, candidates and others who use the office have been telling him, “It’s been under the same management for decades, and they want somebody to come in and give it a fresh look. … bringing the office into the 21st century.”
McGrane said, “I know Ben, and I’ve learned from Ben, and I’m honored to say Ben is supporting me in this race.”
In his closing comment, Toryanski took a dig at each of his rivals. “Don’t send a text message to Mr. Frasure, because he still uses a flip phone,” he said to chuckles. “Mr. Denney, he’s the Duck Dynasty candidate – he seems more interested in that than in modernizing the office.” Denney brought in stars from the reality show for a campaign fundraiser this spring.
“Mr. McGrane, he’s an interesting one – he’s the status quo candidate,” Toryanski said. “He’s so joined at the hip with the current Secretary of State and is so invested in the past that he can’t see the future.” Toryanski said, “I’m the independent candidate with the technology and leadership background.”
McGrane touted his experience overseeing elections in the state’s largest county, where he’s brought in innovations such as webcams to allow people to watch the votes being counted; Denney said his agriculture, timber and mining experience would guide him on the state Land Board; and Frasure touted his 12 years as a high school civics teacher, after a career in real estate that gave him “30 years experience in negotiations.”
The winner of the four-way contest in Tuesday’s GOP primary will face Democrat Holli Woodings, a first-term state representative, in November; she’s unopposed in the Democratic primary.