4 GOP candidates race for Idaho secretary of state

4 GOP candidates race for Idaho secretary of state
Screenshot via Idaho Public Television

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - For the first time in almost 50 years, Idaho voters won't be given the option to choose Ben Ysursa or Pete Cenarrusa on the May 20 primary ballot.

Instead, four Republicans and a Democrat are vying to become Idaho's secretary of state. Three of the GOP candidates come with legislative experience, while the fourth is the Ada County chief deputy clerk.

It's a post that comes with a history of long-serving incumbents who have administered Idaho's sunshine laws and worked to improve voter access. Ysursa is stepping down after 12 years in office. Before him, Cenarrusa served for seven terms, making him the longest-serving secretary in Idaho.

While the job is designed to serve as Idaho's chief election officer, the secretary is also a member of the Idaho Land Board. The five-member board - made up of statewide elected officials including the governor and attorney general - is in charge of managing Idaho's 2.5 million acres of endowment land to reap the highest long-term financial returns.

Mitch Toryanski of Boise and Evan Frasure of Pocatello, both former state senators, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane of Garden City, and Rep. Lawerence Denney of Midvale will face off in the May 20 GOP primary. The winner will face Democrat State Rep. Holli Woodings in November. Woodings is a freshman state representative for District 19 in Boise.

"The secretary is primarily administrative except for a couple areas," said Denney, who has been in the Idaho statehouse for almost 20 years, six of which he served as speaker of the House, ending in 2012. "It's those areas that have gotten me involved in the race."

The land board needs an advocate in favor of Idaho taking control of federally managed public lands, Denney said, adding that none of the statewide elected officials currently support the initiative. Denney said he's not trying to expand the secretary's role but wants to see the position become influential in making that political movement happen.

Denney is currently co-chair of the legislative Federal Lands Interim Committee tasked with studying and submitting a recommendation on whether or not Idaho should take over federally managed public lands.

Toryansk said he would focus on bringing the office into the 21st century by improving the secretary's website and upgrading technology. He said his experience as a former attorney to the Idaho secretary of state and treasurer's office as well as serving a term in the Idaho Senate has helped prep him for the job.

"We can file more documents electronically," he said. "I think it would be attractive to businesses to make that change."

While he's in favor of finding ways to maximize returns as a member on the Land Board, Toryanski said he would pursue a more cautious approach when it came to obtaining federally managed public lands.

"It's an option, I favor pursuing that but it's not something that can be done just by the secretary," he said.

While the elections side of the job is important, Frasure said he would make it a priority to visit schools to improve voter education among high school students. He said he would also focus on revamping the business licensing process.

Frasure served 12 years in the Legislature until he decided to run for secretary of state against Ysursa in 2002. He has worked as a civics high school teacher for the past six years in Pocatello.

"What you'll have is a business man helping a business man," he said. "Things like the site aren't very helpful right now."

Frasure is also a supporter of Idaho taking control of more federally managed land. Doing so would bring in more money for Idaho schools, he said.

McGrane, 34, first worked for Ada County in 2005 and was an election specialist for two years. After law school, he returned to Ada County to work as the chief deputy clerk, where he's been for three years.

McGrane's opponents have criticized his lack of experience. Frasure described McGrane as "the kid who has experience counting votes." But McGrane, who has received endorsements from Ysursa and county clerks across the state, countered he's coming with relevant experience working in county elections that his challengers lack.

"Simply being in public office is not a credential," he said.

McGrane said he would work to compile campaign finance and lobbyist disclosure data into an easier format on the secretary's website. The current system is too cumbersome, McGrane said. He would also pursue enforcing real-time reporting for campaign finance contributions and creating an online voter registration portal.