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Proposal would leave incumbent protection program in place

Proposal would leave incumbent protection program in place

Wayne Hoffman
February 16, 2022
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February 16, 2022

Rep. Brent Crane reveals the truth about a biennial problem for the Legislature, but he gets the solution wrong. Crane’s House Bill 567 would shorten the window for candidates to file to run for office from two weeks at the end of February to one week. The real problem is that the primary election is in May, and it is an impediment to election fairness in Idaho because it is the ultimate incumbent protection program.

Crane correctly points out that lawmakers find themselves distracted by the two-week period, which occurs during the end of February and beginning of March, right in the middle of the legislative session. Incumbent legislators, he says, are too worried about who might decide to run against them that they pay as much attention to the candidate roster on the secretary of state’s office website as much as they focus on the session.

Crane figures his proposal would result in lawmakers being distracted for a shorter length of time, but it still only serves to benefit incumbent senators and representatives.

Consider that candidates are expected to decide whether to run for office before the legislative session is even halfway over. 

The filing period opens and closes before lawmakers figure out the budget. 

This year’s election is especially complicated because of the 10-year legislative redistricting taking place. Many Idahoans are finding themselves in brand new districts, represented by a senator and two representatives they’ve never met or followed. 

Moreover, the Legislature doesn’t make it particularly easy to figure out your incumbent legislators’ voting records. If you go to the state Legislature’s website expecting to find a complete breakdown of how your legislators voted, you won’t. It doesn’t exist. 

Instead, one must search one bill at a time to learn what their lawmakers have done.

The most complete record available online is from the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Idaho Freedom Index, Idaho Spending Index, and Idaho Education Index, where votes are broken down by individual legislator. Still, our website doesn’t include everything, such as committee votes, but it’s the most comprehensive tool out there. 

Lawmakers don’t even fully address major issues during election years until they’re confident they won’t face a major election challenge, according to Crane. But that problem would persist even if Crane’s bill passes. In previous years, major tax and healthcare policies were paused until key legislators knew what kind of competition they’d face in the May primary. 

The solution is to move the candidate filing period until sometime after the legislative session has concluded. In order to give candidates time to file and run, that also requires moving the primary election to later in the year. Many states hold their primary elections in June or later. 

The state’s schedule for elections is designed to protect incumbents. Crane’s bill would allow that incumbent protection system to remain in place and would arguably make election challenges even harder.

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