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Well-wishers honor Ysursa at Capitol ceremony

Close to 150 people gathered in the rotunda of the state Capitol today to offer their well-wishes to longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring after 12 years as Idaho’s elected secretary of state and 40 years in the office. Here, folks are lined up down the Capitol’s hallway for a chance to congratulate Ysursa. “He is one of the most outstanding public servants in Idaho’s history, in my opinion,” said former Gov. Phil Batt, who joined the crowd. “He not only did his job well, but he sets a good tone for the entire state.”

Gov. Butch Otter, who’s known Ysursa for 50 years, addressed the crowd, saying, “He’s done that office a tremendous amount of good in credibility and transparency.” Otter said both of Ysursa and his mentor and predecessor, the late Pete Cenarrusa, “Whenever I got an answer from Ben (or Pete) … I never went anyplace else. … We all need to strive for that kind of credibility and that kind of reputation. … His values are the core Idaho values.”

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones said, “I think he’s done a superb job.” State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “Few people have had as much impact as Ben has in terms of how elections have occurred. That’s one of the very most fundamental rights … and Ben has been on the forefront of defending that for decades.”

Longtime Statehouse reporter Quane Kenyon, now retired, said, “Ben and Pete go together in my mind, because they were a tremendous amount of help to people who cover elections in this state. You never had any doubt that anything they told you would be true.”

Said Bruce Newcomb, former speaker of the Idaho House and now government relations chief for Boise State University, said, “It’s been really a pleasure to serve with somebody who’s so honorable and non-partisan, and upheld the integrity of the office that Pete Cenarrusa put together. … He set the mark high.”

Ysursa himself said, “It’s kind of bittersweet and kind of nostalgic.” He said, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Pete Cenarrusa. They don’t come better than Pete and Freda.” Ysursa also invited folks to Leku Ona later in the day for drinks and reminiscences. “It’s been my honor and privilege to serve the people of the state of Idaho,” he said.

A large cake served to the well-wishers was emblazoned, “Thank you for 40 years of service, Congratulations Ben. Best wishes on your retirement,” with the three words of Ysursa’s longtime campaign slogan, “Fairness,” “Efficiency” and “Service,” flanking the frosted message.

Ysursa endorses McGrane for Idaho secretary of state

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa today threw his support to Phil McGrane 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 secretary of state … without a doubt 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; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

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.”

Endorsement wars: ‘Pete liked and trusted Mitch’

It’s become something of an endorsement war this week among the GOP candidates for Idaho Secretary of State, with Mitch Toryanski introducing Freda Cenarrusa, widow of longtime Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, as his campaign chair; Evan Frasure touting endorsements from an array of lawmakers topped by Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis; and Lawerence Denney naming three honorary campaign chairmen: 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador for the Treasure Valley; former Sen. Don Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, for eastern Idaho; and GOP icon Ruthie Johnson for North Idaho.

Freda Cenarrusa joined Toryanski for his formal campaign kickoff in the state Capitol on Thursday. “Pete liked and trusted Mitch. And I like and trust Mitch Toryanski,” she said. “Mitch is what Pete and I like in a leader.” Mrs. Cenarrusa cited Toryanski’s commitment to family, his distinguished military career, and his government and business experience. “I respect Mitch Toryanski’s stellar record as a leader, a commander of troops, a father and a husband,” she said.

Frasure, who held his formal campaign kickoff the same day in Pocatello, named backers including Sens. Fred Martin, R-Boise; John Tippets, R-Montpelier; McCammon Republicans Sen. Jim Guthrie and Rep. Kelly Packer; and three Bannock County commissioners, and the mayors of Pocatello and Chubbuck. He’s a former longtime state senator who is making his second run for Secretary of State after losing to Ben Ysursa in 2002; he also served on the Idaho Citizens Redistricting Commission. Now a high school government teacher, Frasure was a real estate broker for 30 years.

Denney, launched his campaign Oct. 24 – well before current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced he wouldn’t seek another term – said of his new honorary campaign chairs, “These close friends are well-respected politically, have great connections and are tremendous, hard-working people that anyone would be proud to have on their campaigns.”

Chief Deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, who launched his campaign Dec. 10 with the backing of an array of county clerks from across the state, also is in the race. Still considering it are Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise.

McGrane schedules announcement, and will be handing out free BBQ…

Phil McGrane, chief deputy Ada County clerk, has scheduled his announcement for 5 p.m. tomorrow in the first-floor public hearing room at the Ada County Courthouse, 200 W. Front St., as he mulls a race for Idaho Secretary of State. What makes McGrane stand out in what’s shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary for the seat that will open when longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa retires: His campaign co-chairs are the county clerks of four Idaho counties, and his campaign committee includes five more county clerks from counties all around the state. Plus, he says the list is growing.

McGrane said county clerks and their deputies – like him – are very interested in seeing Idaho’s elections well-run, as they’re the ones who do the work on the ground in the counties. “When you look at the responsibilities of the Secretary of State’s office, elections are a major component, and a component I think the public cares the most about in the process,” McGrane said. He added, “Many of them reached out to me. We kind of have a united interest in this race.”

He doesn’t think it’s his campaign committee that differentiates him from the group of prospective candidates, however. “I think my experience running elections is what makes my candidacy stand out,” he said. “As far as the people that I’m aware of, I’m the only non-legislator among the group, but I’m also the only person who actually has had time actually running and administering Idaho’s election law.”

One more oddity: McGrane is a national award-winning competitive barbecuer, and a fellow competitor and caterer who runs Spuds BBQ will be providing free BBQ to those who attend McGrane’s announcement.

Others in the race: Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney announced his candidacy even before Ysursa withdrew his. Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, and current Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, are considering a run. And Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise, told Eye on Boise on Friday that she, too, is considering the race. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years,” she said; Woodings said she’ll decide in “the next couple of weeks or so.” Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, considered the race earlier, but decided to seek another Senate term instead.

Hagedorn decides against run for Secretary of State

State Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, has decided against making a run for Idaho Secretary of State, and instead will seek another term in his District 14 Senate seat. Hagedorn, 57, made the announcement this morning on Twitter, Facebook, and “all my social media,” he said. “For me, social media is a critical connection.” He noted, “My 83-year-old dad is also on social media. … Everyone is becoming connected.”

Hagedorn, a retired Navy man who served three terms in the House before moving to the Senate in 2012, said he decided to stay in the Senate because of the challenging array of issues he’s able to address there. “I started thinking about all of the different things that we do in the Legislature, from potholes, the prisons, to health and welfare,” he said. “To try and live and work in that environment and solve the issues that we face is something that challenges me mentally and something that I enjoy.”

There’s already a crowded field in the GOP race for Secretary of State, now that longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has announced he won’t seek another term. Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, entered the race even before Ysursa withdrew. Also looking at possible runs are former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane; and Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. And that’s just on the GOP side. Idaho’s primary election is in May. Click below to read Hagedorn's full statement.

Official turnout: Lowest since ‘78

Idaho’s state Board of Canvassers met today to certify the results of the Nov. 2 election, and here’s the news: Just 58.1 percent of Idaho’s registered voters cast ballots. That’s the lowest turnout for a midterm election since 1978 (that year it was 56.51 percent), and well below the Idaho Secretary of State’s office forecast of 63 percent. That forecast, based in part on heavy early voting and fairly high interest in candidates and issues, simply was off, said Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state, and it’s not clear why. The percentage of Idaho’s voting-age population that cast ballots, based on the official results and U.S. Census figures, came in at 40 percent, Hurst said. “It’s still the lowest in years,” he said. “People just for some reason didn’t show up. We’ve always talked about how candidates and issues are what get people out to vote, and we had candidates, we had issues, and nobody voted. I don’t have an explanation.”

One piece of good news from the final canvass of the election results: Nothing changed from the unofficial results the morning after the election. That means Idaho’s election-night count was accurate. Turnout figures as a percentage of registered voters aren’t apparent in those early results, because Idaho has same-day registration.