Remember that chaotic GOP convention back in the summer of 2014? The one where two factions of Idaho’s dominate political party fought each other for control? It was ugly, but the moderate wing of the Republican Party eventually won out.

Or did it?

If this year’s legislative session was any indication, GOP extremists are just getting a foothold in Idaho. It’s to be expected. They have the powerful ally: a closed primary.

Chaos tends to follow GOP extremists. Just think of Sen. Ted Cruz and the government shutdown. Yet it’s the same in the Gem State. Whether they’re derailing a state convention, rejecting the expansion of Medicaid or thumbing their noses at a federal framework for enforcing child support payments, Idaho’s hard-liners thrive in chaos.

Sadly, the chaos has its victims. At the convention, it was the hundreds of delegates who booked two nights in Moscow for nothing. For Medicaid expansion, it’s 70,000 uninsured Idahoans, and for the child support mess, it’s 183,000 of the state’s most vulnerable children.

It’s also expensive. Not expanding Medicaid costs Idaho taxpayers $17 million a year, while not passing child-support legislation could cost the state’s children a whopping $205 million.

For that, you can thank the closed primary.

Four of the nine lawmakers who killed the child-support bill were elected in 2014, two years after the Idaho GOP shut its primary to anybody but registered Republicans. Heather Scott replaced a pragmatic lawmaker who bucked ultra-conservatives in his party. Ryan Kerby replaced one of those ultra-conservatives. Ronald Nate defeated an incumbent on his right flank. And Don Cheatham, a retired Los Angeles cop, ran an unabashed anti-government campaign. All four easily won their primaries.

What followed their victories? A chaotic GOP convention and a legislative session that ended with Idaho’s children in peril.

But the problem is much bigger than these four. As the governor scrambles to find the votes to pass a child-support bill through a special legislative session, we’re beginning to face a horrendous reality – the votes may not be there.

It’s not because a majority of Idaho House members believe cooperation is the same as tyranny, or that the federal government is preparing to haul us away to FEMA camps or that foreigners are out to get us. It’s that they fear a primary opponent who does believe in all that nonsense.

For that, you can thank the closed primary.

It was no surprise that Idaho’s political landscape would change after the closed primary. Most Idahoans expected it to change for the worse. After seeing the pain that a few paranoid hardliners are willing to exact on Idaho’s children for the sake of ideological purity, most Idahoans now realize it was far worse than anybody ever expected.


Derek Farr

Better Idaho