New GOP caucus could leave out some Republican state lawmakers
After six Idaho stops by Republican candidates last week, it’s clear that the Gem State is relevant in the GOP’s presidential selection process.
While party chiefs essentially made Idaho a player in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, the change might leave a number of Republican elected officials out of the process. Some state lawmakers, likely those from northern and eastern Idaho, may have trouble getting back to their home counties to cast their caucus votes for president in the midst of an ongoing legislative session.
Two key changes came along with the caucus that might preclude some lawmakers from participating.
First, the contest date was moved up more than two months. The primary election, the process through which voters used to pick their presidential choice, is set for May 15. The election will still happen, but voters will only choose legislative and congressional candidates.
The date is critical, however. It’s a near certainty that lawmakers will have concluded their business in Boise prior to the May 15 contest. The caucuses, however, are set for March 6 and it’s highly unlikely the Legislature will adjourn by that time.
The second difference for the caucus is that it’s an event that requires party adherents to be in attendance at a certain time and place and there is no provision allowing absentee ballots. In fact, many caucus locations are advertising that polling locations will lock exterior doors immediately upon event commencement.
By contrast, if voters know they won’t be able to vote in the May 15 primary, they can request an absentee ballot and return it prior to the election through the mail.
North Idaho lawmakers will likely have the most arduous task returning to their home districts if they choose to participate in the caucus process. For example, Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, would have nearly a nine-hour road trip if he goes home by car, which would force him to miss at least some of his legislative duties on March 6 or 7.
East Idaho lawmakers, like Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, could also have difficulty making the trip. Barrett’s hometown is more than four hours away from the Capitol.
Even air trips could prove difficult for Idaho lawmakers. Again using Anderson as an example, the voyage to Priest Lake, including waiting time at the airport, the one-hour flight and the two-hour drive from Spokane to his home, could take as long as five hours.
Air trips wouldn’t guarantee lawmakers don’t miss legislative service, though. Finding flights from Spokane to Boise at convenient times to avoid missing hearings will likely be difficult, if not impossible.
So, how are lawmakers to balance their paid legislative work with party activities?
Rod Beck, a GOP operative who helped lead the push to the caucus system, told IdahoReporter.com Monday the statewide Republican rules committee might alter the process to accommodate state legislators.
“We are contemplating a change,” Beck said. The change, he explained, would permit state legislators unable to travel home for the midweek caucus to choose a location in the Treasure Valley to attend.
“We’re going to be at least considering that,” Beck explained, adding that the committee will meet in the next week or two to consider the caucus amendment.
There may be another option that would accommodate, at least, eastern Idaho lawmakers. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Eagle, told IdahoReporter.com his leadership team is mulling ending hearings early March 6 to help legislators get where they need to go. “That’s one thing we’ve talked about,” Moyle said.
Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, said he wants to participate in the Bonneville County caucus, but has no plans to travel there for the meeting. “You’re talking four hours each way,” he said. “I don’t foresee going home for this express purpose.”
Simpson was totally unaware of the problems the caucus poses when approached about it by IdahoReporter.com. “I hadn’t even thought about that,” Simpson said of the situation.
Anderson isn’t happy with the caucus and the problem it poses for him. “I am completely disenfranchised by this,” Anderson said. “I don’t have the money to get home. It’s not going to be paid for with our legislative duties.”
Even if he could find the funds to travel to north Idaho, Anderson says the trek would be futile. “I wouldn’t get home in time anyway,” he explained. “How would I get back in time for meeting the next day?”