Thursday, June 08, 2023

EDITORIAL: Extremism about to face serious adversary

| May 7, 2023 1:00 AM

Counter to popular belief, Idaho’s staggering shift to the far right did not begin with Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

The seeds of seismic shift were sown half a decade before that. In 2011, the state Republican Party convinced the courts to close the party’s primary elections. On the surface, that made sense. Why should members of another party determine who would best represent one’s own party?

But the problem in Idaho involves the many unaffiliated, conservative-leaning voters. While the state Democratic Party welcomes primary participation from independents, this potentially enormous voting bloc is shut out of Republican decision-making at its most critical juncture — selecting the very best candidates to represent the party in general elections.

According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, here’s the breakdown of voter registration by party as of April 6:

Republican: 575,466

Democrat: 125,642

Unaffiliated (independent): 269,383

What far-right Republican leaders understood back in 2011 was that if they could silence the independent voice in the candidate selection process — independents tending to lean right but with more moderate views than extremist GOP leaders — then extremist candidates would have far better chances to advance to general elections.

And in general elections, Democrats are often overwhelmingly outnumbered, so that’s not where the threat lurks. The threat to extremist Republicans is from unaffiliated conservatives supporting candidates who prioritize people over party.

The far-right legislators now in control are so worried about losing their chokehold on lawmaking that they passed a bill this session to protect the closed primary. These are the same legislators who keep trying to usurp citizens’ right to override the legislature via the initiative process, like the one that expanded Medicaid five years ago with 61% voter support.

The strategy is clear: If they can shut out independent voters in primaries and essentially eliminate the only way citizens can veto bad legislation or create legislation that lawmakers refuse to address themselves, then an extremist minority can continue to rule the majority unimpeded.

Fortunately, groups of Idaho citizens, from rank and file to former GOP leaders, have joined forces to knock down the walls that now protect extremism in all levels of Idaho governance.

On Wednesday, we’ll explain how you can help Idaho shed its extremist shackles.

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