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Idaho House reaches support for special legislative session, but proposal differs from state Senate

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Idaho House reaches support for special legislative session, but proposal differs from state Senate

Sep 25, 2023 | 6:21 pm ET
By Clark Corbin
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Idaho House reaches support for special legislative session, but proposal differs from state Senate
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The House of Representatives, which has had a Republican supermajority for more than 60 years, in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

More than 60% of the members of the Idaho House of Representatives have signed a petition calling for a special legislative session to essentially repeal the state law passed earlier this year that unintentionally eliminated the presidential primary election.

But as of Monday afternoon, legislators had not yet received the necessary support from 60% of the members of the Idaho Senate as a key Republican Party deadline looms on Sunday, Oct. 1.

The sponsor of the House petition, Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, told the Idaho Capital Sun on Monday that he reached the necessary support in the House, but he has now turned the issue over to Republicans legislative leaders in hopes of appealing to Gov. Brad Little to quickly call a special session this week.

“I would hope that the leadership can come to the consensus of where we should go forward and meet with the governor and the governor can call us back into session no later than Thursday of this week,” Clow said. 

Efforts to reach Little on Monday were unsuccessful.

During 2023 legislative session, lawmakers inadvertently eliminated state’s presidential primary election

Clow said 45 members of the Idaho House of Representatives signed the petition Clow circulated to convene a special session of the Idaho Legislature to repeal House Bill 138, which Little signed into law on March 30.

During the 2023 session, supporters promoted House Bill 138 as a way to save the state about $2.7 million every four years by moving the presidential primary election back from March to May, when the rest of the state’s primary elections take place. However, House Bill 138 actually eliminated the presidential primary election altogether and legislators adjourned for the year on April 6 without passing Senate Bill 1186, a so-called trailer bill that was designed to actually move the presidential primary to May. 

Clow also said he has been preparing a new draft bill for legislators to consider during a potential special session that would revert Idaho to the status quo with a presidential primary election taking place again in March. 

“My petition was specifically to repeal House Bill138 and to put us back where we were before anyone thought we should be moving any of these primary dates,” Clow said in a telephone interview. “The problem became that everyone had different ways to fix the problem, so I said, ‘Let’s go back and pretend like we never even addressed this issue.’”

After the legislative session ended in April, the Idaho Republican Party voted to create a presidential nominating caucus in March if the Idaho Legislature does not restore the March presidential primary election by Oct. 1.

Clow said Speaker of the House Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Rep. Brent Crane, the Nampa Republican who serves as chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, both signed his petition. 

Idaho House and Senate special session petitions are different

Members of the Idaho House and Idaho Senate have now both advanced their own separate petitions to call a special session on the presidential primary issue. However, the petitions are different and in competition with each other.

On Sept. 6, Republican leaders in the Idaho Senate announced they had reached the 60% threshold for a petition to call a special session to create a presidential primary election in May. 

Clow’s petition would repeal House Bill 138 and revert back to the March primary.

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Under an amendment to the Idaho Constitution voters approved in November, the Idaho Legislature now has the authority to call itself back into session upon a petition signed by 60% of the members of both the Idaho House and Idaho Senate. 

In order to actually convene a special legislative session under the Idaho Legislature’s new powers, one side or the other would have to convince 60% of the members of the other legislative chamber to sign their petition. 

Clow said he would like Little to act and call the special session because he thinks it will be the quickest option to convene a special session before Sunday’s deadline. 

Several legislators, including Clow, have expressed concerns about moving to a presidential nominating caucus if legislators don’t reinstate a presidential primary election. The caucus would require voters to participate in person for an event that could last for several hours. Although caucus sites have yet to be announced publicly, there may only be one physical caucus site per county or legislative district – far fewer than the thousands of neighborhood polling locations available for primary elections. 

Holding a presidential primary v. a caucus

 

In 2012, when the Idaho Republican Party held its last presidential caucus, 44,672 voters participated, the Spokesman-Review reported. But when the Idaho Republican Party moved to a presidential primary during the next presidential election in 2016, the number of voters who participated increased to over 225,000, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.

“I don’t particularly like the caucus because I think it excludes too many members,” Clow said Monday. 

On Monday, Idaho Democratic leaders released statements calling on Republicans to work together to reinstate a presidential primary election. In a press release, Democratic leaders warned that if Republicans continue to argue between the March and May dates, their disagreements could prevent the state from taking action in time to reinstate a presidential primary election. 

“It is the most basic function of government to provide elections in which all legal voters can participate,” Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said in a written statement. “Democrats have signed every petition presented to us that would restore a primary and ensure this sacred duty is carried out. The ball is now in the hands of our Republican colleagues. Seniors, those with disabilities, military members and many more are reaching out to us to provide them with a primary in which they can vote next year. We ask our Republican colleagues to listen to their pleas and take action to restore a primary.”

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, also expressed concern over a potential presidential nominating caucus. 

“The caucus system will prevent those with disabilities, those serving in the armed forces, those working shift jobs, those with child care challenges and many others from participating in this important election.” Rubel said in a written statement Monday. “Our Democratic representatives have signed both petitions to return to a special session to restore a primary. Whether the primary takes place in March or May, the important thing is that all Idaho voters be given an opportunity to vote. How can we ask those in the military to risk their lives serving their country and then not afford them an opportunity to vote in the presidential primary determining their own commander-in-chief?”