A Response to the Times News on Their Endorsement

Posted on May 9, 2014 in Editorials, News, The Rest of the Story | 0 comments

To most observers, elections in Idaho are conducted well, striking a good balance between preventing fraud and promoting access. As obsessed as journalists are with process, it’s not surprising the Times News would be smitten with Phil McGrane’s ideas for fine-tuning the elections system.

For decades, the Idaho Secretary of State’s office has built a solid reputation for doing a good job. When it comes to administering and overseeing elections, business filings and similar duties, the office must be and has been apolitical, impartial and focused on professional public service.

Right now, the main issues with the Secretary of State’s office lie not with its core duties, but with its additional and very significant position on the State Land Board. The Times-News endorsement stayed in the comfortable realm of process and procedure, where there is little change needed, and ducked the more controversial realms of politics and policy

The state’s endowment totals 2.4 million acres and its distributions this year will total $49 million to Idaho public schools, colleges, universities, veterans homes, juvenile corrections and state hospitals for the mentally ill. Evidently this is small beans to the Times-News, which chides candidates like me for focusing so much on the Land Board, asking what it would be like if the attorney general spent the bulk of his time on land issues. Actually, I think the AG, and other land board members, haven’t paid enough attention to their land board duties as this fund is under threat from unsound, unconstitutional policies..

The land board is in competition with the private sector by owning rental units, residential property, general commercial properties and a downtown Boise building rented to a brewpub. The Land Board has strayed far from its mandate and needs to be brought back. This will require standing up to, and pressing for change with, cronyistic leadership. I seriously question whether any of my opponents have the grit and tenacity to press for needed changes at the Land Board.  Also, the land board position requires knowledge of state budgeting, education, local government, natural resource use, outdoor recreation and other areas that I know very well and better than any of my opponents.

The Times-news mentioned objectivity is required for the Secretary of State’s office. That’s true for their administrative duties. But a statewide official must be, when needed, an outspoken advocate for sound policies, restraint and adherence to the Constitution.

Very often, advocating for the right thing is hard. Powerful, entrenched interests and officials will seek to influence or manipulate you. The Times-News glossed over the pressures that come to bear on people at this level. McGrane has been a good public servant and has a bright future ahead of him, but his lack of political experience suggests he will fall in line and protect the status quo even when reform is needed.

I know a thing or two about elections, having had my name on the ballot 13 times and having served 20 years in the Idaho Legislature. More frequent campaign reports are not necessarily beneficial. Already, candidates must make at least six reports. By and large, campaign treasurers are volunteers. Saddling them with additional reporting (absent a convincing need) will just make it more difficult for people to run for office.

The Land Board position requires very broad competence in statewide issues and the ability to work with – or stand up to – other elected officials. The Secretary of State position requires someone who can, when necessary, fight for the right thing and deal with resistance.

– Lawerence Denney