Friday, April 4, 2014

Big tent becoming pup tent

In Idaho, the GOP’s so-called big tent is rapidly becoming a pup tent, leaving all but its most radical adherents standing outside. This is just fine with the insiders who sued in 2011 and forced the state to allow closed primary elections.
    The Republican far right is getting exactly what it wanted in the race between eight-term 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson and lawyer Bryan Smith. Smith is backed by the Republican Tea Party wing and the deep pockets of the multi-millionaire members of the radically conservative Club for Growth.
    The airwaves are crammed with club-financed anti-Simpson ads accusing him of being “too liberal,” a charge that when suddenly delivered to most Idaho politicos can cause them to snort milk out their noses.
    The closed primary handcuffs Simpson’s ability to reach out to his broad base of constituents that previously included both independents and Democrats. Before the closed primary, individual races, not party alignment, sometimes influenced which ticket voters chose to punch.
    Political purists and backroom power brokers hated the system because it weakened wannabe kingmakers. The U.S. District Court agreed that the open system violated their First Amendment right to associate with whom they pleased.
    Yet, open primaries seem to suit most Idaho voters just fine.
    Idaho voters didn’t rush to the polls to declare affiliation in order to vote in the first closed primary in May 2012, which drew record-low voter numbers. Today, 440,000 voters, or 60 percent of the state’s total of 742,000 registered voters, remain unaffiliated. Unaffiliated voters may declare a party preference at the polls next month, but already affiliated voters who wish to switch cannot unless they did so before a March 14 deadline.
    The court’s ruling and the Republican Party’s decision to opt for a closed primary have let the kingmakers rig the system.
    If voters don’t wake up to what’s happening, Idaho could be in for multiple shocks from a right-wing agenda that includes massive under-investment in education and infrastructure, lack of economic growth, a degraded environment, and high percentages of citizens who are undereducated, underemployed or trapped in minimum-wage jobs. The desperately poor can look forward to deeper cuts in Medicaid health services.
    Even with relatively moderate leaders, Idaho continually ranks in the lower rungs of nearly every quality measure of education, health care, environmental protection and economic fitness when compared to other states.
    Is this really the state Idahoans want? It’s the state the radical right would like us to have. Stay tuned for the general election in November.

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