The upcoming primary election May 17 is the one last chance for Idaho to avoid falling into the grip of some very extreme candidates for public office. The only sure way for Idaho voters to have a say this year is to vote in the Republican primary where extremists are seeking nominations to statewide office. And to do so in the closed primary that Republicans created in 2011, you must be a registered Republican.
If you are registered as a Democrat and want to participate in the Republican primary, go to your county election office and change your registration to Republican by March 11.
If you are unaffiliated, you can currently register as a Republican on primary election day and vote at that time. However, a current GOP-backed bill before the state Legislature would require unaffiliated voters to change their registration by March 11, the same deadline currently imposed on those registered as Democrats or Republicans who wish to change their party affiliation. Watch to see if the bill passes and if it does, make sure you register at your county election office before the March 11 deadline.
As any election expert in Idaho will attest, the primary is essentially the general election in Idaho, given the overwhelming numbers of Republican voters. Who wins the nomination in the Republican primary gets elected in November. This is not the time for Democrats to fall on the sword of loyalty to their party. Nor is it the time for unaffiliated voters to exercise their independent muscles by avoiding a Republican primary where they can truly make a difference.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Our elections in Idaho, including our primaries, are paid for by all Idaho taxpayers. Republicans have used taxpayer dollars to construct a closed primary that makes it more difficult for voters who are not Republicans to access. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Idaho has left its primary open for any qualified voter to participate.
That should serve as enough reason for voters who pay for these primaries to exercise their right to vote in the primary where their vote can make a difference. In the case of this upcoming primary, that is the Republican primary where voters can deny candidates of the far-right access to the general election ballot.
Since my last column on this subject, more evidence has surfaced as why it is so important to deny the radical right access to public office. I do not make this claim lightly, but barring a seismic shift in the direction of America’s politics, the United States of America could soon be an autocratic regime without precedent in American history.
The dirty work of converting a democracy to an autocracy began early last year when 34 Republican-sponsored restrictive voting laws passed in at least 19 states, a key ingredient of Republican plans to take back the White House and control both houses of Congress. If left in place, millions of Americans will be denied the right to vote. Or the bureaucratic hoops through which voters must jump will simply discourage them from voting. Without question, these restrictive laws are carefully designed to limit voter turnout of those who would normally vote for Democrats or moderate Republicans.
To make matters worse, the Party of Donald Trump is also attempting to rig election machinery in the states. Their sinister efforts will hand over the verification of votes to Republican partisans who can overturn the popular vote. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a special police force to monitor state elections, clearly an attempt to intimidate voters. These nullifiers are making every effort to rid Washington and state governments of officeholders who have won the right to hold public office and who believe in the rule of law and the consent of the governed.
From sea to shining sea, Trumpians seem intent on thwarting the will of the people and paving the way for increasingly right-wing Republican party members who are in lockstep with Donald Trump and his quest to return to the White House with his Big Lie strategy.
Too many Americans naively believe there is something so inherently different about America that it can never experience what has already happened in Poland, Hungary and Turkey, just to name a few countries whose democracies have been weakened by a nationalistic right wing. With heads in the sand, they ignore the growing right-wing mania sweeping America and assume somehow, someway, that this will all go away and one day we will wake up to a constitutional republic the likes of which FDR or Eisenhower governed.
To this day, an alarming number of voters believe in Trump’s claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. In a University of Massachusetts poll right before Christmas, only 21% of Republicans believe that President Biden was legitimately elected to office. That result does not differ from other polls reaching the same conclusion. Another poll from the University of Maryland showed 40% of Republicans voters — obviously the growing right-wing of the party — claiming it is justified in some cases for citizens to take “violent action against the government.”
We now live in an America carefully constructed by Trump and his extreme followers, where large numbers of Americans justify sedition and insurrection as permissible when the election results are not to their liking.
Here in Idaho, conservative Republicans are fighting off radicals who want to destroy public education both in our K-12 schools and our public universities.
Wayne Hoffmann of the Idaho Freedom Foundation — where Idaho’s wing-nut legislators get their marching orders — sent an email recently to his anointed followers calling efforts to push property taxes near zero and getting rid of the state’s income tax “really good ideas.” If those are the Freedom Foundation’s “really good ideas,” then make no mistake about it. The goal is to wipe out public education and other essential services in Idaho.
Some Democrats and independents may think the Republican Party of Idaho deserves all it gets in May, and Democrats should stay in their own primary. Unfortunately, if Janice McGeachin, Priscilla Giddings or Ammon Bundy — three Trump lookalikes — were to be nominated, there is little to stop them from winning the general election and obliterating the small but important steps state government has taken to keep Idaho competitive and avoid national embarrassment. (The governor’s refusal to interfere with private sector decisions to require masks and vaccinations comes to mind.)
Now is not the time to wring our hands and confine our reaction to conversations at cocktail parties, golf games, bar stools and however else we choose to sleepwalk our way toward the American Autocracy of 2024 if Trump or someone of his ilk becomes president. It’s time to think like Americans not Republicans, not Democrats or independents and send a message that Idaho will not tolerate extremists who will disable a state government in service of its citizens.
Visit your county election office this week or anytime up to March 11 to register as a Republican primary voter for the May 17 primary election.
Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Reader’s Corner on Boise State Public Radio and is a regular columnist for the Idaho Statesman. He served two terms as Illinois lieutenant governor and 10 years as a state legislator.