Arrow-right Camera

Color Scheme

Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Eye on Boise: Interest in Idaho secretary of state’s job mounting

BOISE – Just a week after longtime Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced that he’d retire rather than seek another four-year term in 2014, the list of those considering running for the post in the May GOP primary has swelled.

Added to the list on Friday: Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene.

“It’s definitely intriguing,” said Malek, a first-term state representative and former Kootenai County deputy prosecutor. He said supporters have been urging him to run, and part of the appeal is the chance to get someone from North Idaho into the ranks of Idaho’s top state elected officials. Currently, there are none.

“It’s an extremely important position, and I do think I would bring a qualified skill set to it as well,” Malek said.

He listed his law degree, his legislative and electoral experience, his work running an urban renewal agency in Post Falls before he went to law school and his work with corporations as an attorney. Malek also served as North Idaho regional director for then-Gov. Jim Risch.

But the 32-year-old also admitted he’s torn. “I do love where I’m at,” he said. “I have the best constituents in the world and a job I love back in my home district. … I’m watching to see how the candidates shake out.”

Malek is currently director of legal affairs for Heritage Health, formerly Dirne Community Health Center, in Coeur d’Alene. A newlywed, he holds degrees from the College of Idaho and the University of Idaho College of Law.

At least four other Republicans already have expressed interest in the race; former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, announced his candidacy even before Ysursa bowed out.

“I expected some folks to enter into it, and it should be a lively primary,” Ysursa said. “Once the whole field is settled, we’ll see. I’m sure the Democrats will try to run some folks too.” Ysursa, the state’s chief elections offer, said with a grin, “I’ll put them all on the ballot.”

Here’s a look at the other three who have surfaced so far:

Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, 55, is an attorney and a career Army officer who retired in 2010 at the rank of colonel. A West Point graduate, he holds a law degree from American University and a master of strategic studies degree from the Army War College. Toryanski served just one term in the Senate before he was defeated by a Democrat. After redistricting, he said, “I was a conservative Republican running in a Democrat district. If I run statewide, I’ll be a conservative Republican running in a conservative Republican state. I think we’ll be able to compete real well.”

Toryanski was an Idaho deputy attorney general for five years and also practiced law in Boise; he currently does mission command training for Northrop Grumman Corp. He’s hitting the road for the next week, traveling around the state to gauge support for his run.

“When I was with the attorney general’s office, the secretary of state was one of my clients,” he said. “I’ve studied election issues, written a variety of opinions about them, been consulted on lobbying disclosure statutes.”

Phil McGrane, 33, chief deputy county clerk in Ada County, said, “I think that Ben has done an amazing job as secretary of state, and I know that from the clerks’ perspective, we’d like to have somebody go in there who has experience running elections and doing the job.” McGrane has a law degree from the University of Denver and a bachelor’s from the University of Washington; he started work as an election specialist with the clerk’s office in 2005, before he went to law school, and returned in 2011.

“My background and expertise is largely in elections,” McGrane said. He and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich have built a focus on transparency in the office, he said, improving website election results posting and adding webcams so candidates and voters can watch the actual ballot-counting.

McGrane said that as a Republican, “I think Republicans should win because their ideas are right, because small government is right and fiscal responsibility is right, not because someone’s trying to tilt the tables in their favor.” The secretary of state’s office, he said, needs to be “a good umpire monitoring the game.”

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, 57, is a career Navy man who served three terms in the state House and is now completing his first term in the Senate. He said he’s “not planning on making any swift decision” about running for secretary of state, but if he does run, his priorities would be “fair and transparent elections for all the political subdivisions in the state,” more collaboration between the office and the Department of Commerce and the state Tax Commission to aid new and expanding businesses, and seeking a constitutional amendment to clarify appropriate land investments for the state Land Board.

Hagedorn retired from the military in 1994 as a chief warrant officer and then worked in the private sector for 16 years, including five years running his own equipment import-export business. Hagedorn attended the University of Maryland and Pensacola Junior College. He’s vice president and a co-founder of the Wyakin Warrior Foundation, which provides intensive aid and scholarships for severely wounded veterans.

More from this author