Here in Idaho, the primary will be held next Tuesday. For about half of us, our only option is to register as a Republican if we want to make our votes count.
The Republicans held their first caucus this year. Until then, the primary was the way the Republican candidates were selected. May 15th comes very late in the primary season, and the Democratic caucuses have been held on Super Tuesday for some time. The Idaho Republican party decided to go to a caucus so their votes would count more in the final outcome for Republican national candidates.
But over the past few years, the far right of the party has taken over many county Central Committees, and the committees set the agenda of the party. One of them was a measure to close the Republican primary. Now, to be able to vote for a Republican in the primary requires Independents, Non-Affiliated, Democratic and Libertarian, and all other voters to register themselves as Republicans.
Why is this a big deal? In a state that has a more balanced Legislature, it wouldn't be, but for the past 20+ years, Idaho has become effectively a unicameral state.
The Republican super-majority in all areas of government, from the county level to the state level, is so large that in almost all instances, the choices for County Commissioners, Treasurers, Sheriffs, and State Representatives and Senators are only Republicans. I, like thousands of others, will have to register as a Republican before I have a say in who I want to be my County Commissioner, Sheriff, and Representative. My only other choice is to leave those decisions in the hands of others. My non-registered vote would only count in non-partisan races and initiatives which will appear on the ballots of the general election. There are no Democrats running in my county for any of the above positions.
Officially, about 2/3 of Idaho's voters are registered as Independents. At least 1/3 of these are swing voters, who sometimes vote for Democrats, especially in the national elections, and the rest are Libertarians and other fringe party voters. We have lots of fringe voters here, who mostly are to the right of the Republican party. More than anything, folks here tend to vote for those who they know, either by reputation or name recognition. Since this is a small state, most folks are familiar with their candidates.
But over the past few elections, the Repub Central Committees have been taken over by 'Constitutional Conservatives', and they are a far-right bunch. Some of the party's platform includes: annulment, a return to the gold standard, and the supremacy of State over Federal government. Many of the old-line conservatives who have run the Republican party for decades have been pushed out of their central committees.
This extreme bunch gained a lot of seats in the 2010 election. As a result, the recent legislative sessions have been mostly stalemates with a lot of useless social legislation passed and later defeated by the courts.
What has passed has become a big shift to the right in our education budget, our state employees' unions, and inattention to our roads and infrastructure. The most radical law was one that required school districts to provide computers and a compertized education system; the teaching contract was awarded afterwards to a company that is owned by some very powerful conservatives with tight connections to Boise, where big deals are struck. This law is currently tied up in the courts, as are several others, including Idaho's health care.
Those battles became moderate Republican vs. conservative Republican fights.
Idaho has a core of older, experienced Representatives and Senators who were once thought to be solid conservatives until the definition of the word moved far to the right. These moderates blocked much of the most extreme legislation that has gone through the House and Senate for the past two years, and now, many of them are in a fight for their political lives for the first time since they were elected.
Their rivals are mostly younger, are newcomers to politics, and are making no bones of where they stand; their campaign signs and ads proclaim them to be True Republicans, Constitutional Republicans, or Conservative Republicans.
The bitterness between the factions has steadily increased over the past two years, and is at a high level now.
There is an increasing push-back being conducted by new Republican moderates who feel the right wing has drastically over reached and has gone too far. These folks are, by and large, older, more established in their communities, and are largely professionals: doctors, lawyers, large farmers and others who have been civically active for years.
The Idaho Democrats would like to vote for many of these folks, as would the Independents, who tend to vote for moderates of either party. But we will have to register as Republicans to be able to select our future Sheriffs, County Commissioners and others who are the closest to the electorate.
I'll have to register. I want my vote to count. My choices include: one candidate for Sheriff believes he can stop Federal law enforcement from 'interfering' with county investigations. One Representative candidate for my district wants to nullify Idaho's statehood so Idaho can become a separate nation. Still another wants to make invasive medical procedures a law before a woman can seek an abortion here.
Am I going to vote for any of these guys? Hell no! Some of my choices are going to be putrid, but the only way to stop the wing-nuts is to deny them a win as early and as often as it takes. I'm encouraging all my Democratic friends to make the same decision I made. We can't leave this up to the diligence of Republican moderates only.
Traditionally, the Primary election has always had a low turnout. The extreme conservatives have used this to their advantage, as the Central Committee membership is decided in the primary, as are the delegates to the national convention. It has been easy for them to turn out their fervent base to go vote when most voters have been indifferent to the results.
This time, who knows? The party's infighting between it's factions has become very public and a hot topic of discussion. Maybe this will rouse enough moderates to make a difference, maybe not.
But eventually, I believe the closed primary will come back to bite the far right very hard as soon as some critical legislation crosses the line.
Idaho is very favorable to the far right conservatives right now, but this election could prove to be the opposite of what they want to achieve by forcing voters to register, and could become the beginning of the end for the Constitutionalists and the others. Party purity is not all it is thought to be in a state where there's only one strong party.
May 16th will provide a glimpse of things to come, one way or the other. Forcing everyone to come to the Republican table is a feast chock full of unintended consequences.