If it sometimes seems that the inmates are running the asylum down at the Idaho Legislature, most longtime political observers, including (privately) a number of top leaders in the Republican party, would agree.
From efforts to return to the "confederate" status of the old Articles of Confederation, to repeal of direct election of U.S. Senators and the gutting of public education, this legislature has an ultra-conservative bent that, frankly, frightens a lot of people.
The Republican leaders we respect (and there are many of them, fortunately) are appalled at the direction in which their own party seems to be moving. Like us, they believe most Republicans (and Idaho voters in general) are moderate conservatives, not the right-wing extremists that seem to be taking over the party at present.
Most believe the problem at the legislature stems from the sudden influx of "Tea Party" candidates swept to election last fall. Some of their overly simplistic and naive proposals have been justified on grounds that fly in the face of history, logic and the law.
In Idaho, we do have a two-party system, but both are included under the umbrella of the Republican Party. Inside the legislature there has been a growing rift between the two main groups of Republicans that can only be described as the Reasonable Republicans and the nuts. The nuts have been winning. It's been crazy.
And it's probably going to get worse.
As sure as the sun sets every evening, the legislature will pass Senate Bill 1198, which will close the Republican primary. The party had sued the state over the open primary law, which allows anyone to vote in a party primary election without having to declare a party affiliation. The courts agreed with the party's contention that the law was unconstitutional and that the party had the right to choose with whom they associated. That argument seemed reasonable and fair.
But the main concern was that party officials believed Democrats were crossing over to vote in the Republican primary (there's never anybody on the hopeless Democrat ballot anyway). The crossover voting, they contended, was designed to try and elect GOP candidates that would be unelectable in the general election.
On the surface, that also seems reasonable. But in Idaho, that's laughable. Even if every Democrat in the state did that, there probably aren't enough of them to sway many elections, and even if they did, any candidate with an "R" behind his name on the ballot is still going to get elected in Idaho anyway, so it would be counterproductive.
The real influence in the Republican primary has always been the Independents, and there are a lot of them out there. Independents tend to be middle of the road, trending toward conservative, so they've had a leveling influence on the Republican primaries.
But unless those Independents decide to formally register as Republicans, they are no longer going to be able to vote in the GOP primary, unless the party decides, under the provisions of SB1198, that voters listed as "unaffiliated" will be allowed to vote in the party primary.
Without the Independents, you're going to see even more ultra-conservative candidates winning the elections and moving on to the fall general election.
Some of these will be the same candidates who actually proposed, and got a significant number of votes at last year's state Republican convention, to eliminate public education in Idaho. They weren't successful, but they got a lot more votes than they should have and it's been reflected in the legislature's education proposals this year. Without the Independents to rein them in, a lot of those guys are going to get elected next year.
Party central committees tend to be more "hardcore" than general party membership. People tend not to run for precinct committee posts unless they're really fired up about issues. They're the ones, for example, that successfully pushed for a party "loyalty oath" for candidates (largely ignored by the more reasonable and good Republican elected officials in Idaho).
The average voter could care less about politics if they had a choice. With a closed primary, the "hardcore" voices are going to have even more influence. The moderate Independents are going to be aced out and left with increasingly unacceptable choices in the general election.
What's worse is the Democrats really can't offer up a viable alternative in the general election. The current Democratic Party in Idaho is a joke -- and a bad one at that. Even its recent leadership "reorganization" was simply a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic. The party leadership has no clue how to win an election or even get viable candidates to run. They are not going to be able to come to the rescue of the moderate Independents who have historically been the deciding factor in Idaho elections.
The only hope for them is that the GOP decides to allow Independents to vote in their election, which we believe is critical to avoid a swing to the radical right. Right now, that doesn't seem likely. There are some press reports out there that the two parties the Idaho GOP is considering allowing to vote in their primary are the Constitutionalist and Libertarian parties.
That indicates a deliberate and conscious shift to the right that would push the party a long way along the political spectrum away from the centrist Independents.
It's time for the Reasonable Republicans in the Idaho GOP to fight back and regain control over their own party.
Allowing "unaffiliated" Independents to vote in the Republican Primary would go a long way to helping restore the party to a measure of sanity and help embrace that large body of Independents who would otherwise be virtually disenfranchised in Idaho politics.
Without it, you'll see a swing to increasing extremism that will destroy the GOP in the long run.