BOISE – Among the four GOP candidates facing off for the chance to become Idaho’s next secretary of state, the three with elective office experience made it clear in a televised debate Tuesday night that they see the fourth, who has none, as the front-runner.
Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney and former state Sens. Evan Frasure and Mitch Toryanski heaped criticism 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 impartial 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 statewide 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.”
Both Denney and Frasure spoke out in favor of the closed primary. “Parties have a right to do that,” Frasure said.
Denney, Frasure and Toryanski 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.”
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.