by Senator Scott Herndon

In the 2023 Legislative Session, Idaho’s new Republican Secretary of State ran a bill in the legislature that eliminated Idaho’s 2024 presidential primary election.

Phil McGrane says his intention was simply to move the presidential primary election from March to our regular primary election in May, and sure enough, that is what the statement of purpose that accompanied the legislation stated. But the reality is that H138 eliminated the presidential primary altogether. Was this an accident, or was it a designed plan?

H138 was introduced on February 13 and passed the House overwhelmingly 61-6-3 on February 24. Probably many of the 58 Republican House members who voted for it liked the idea of saving money and consolidating elections.

They never consulted with the Idaho Republican party, though. Eight years ago, in 2015, the Republican Party successfully got the presidential primary election moved to March. The goal of the move was to give Idaho more influence on who actually wins the Republican nomination for President, drawing presidential candidates to Idaho on their campaign trail.

By the time H138 made it to the Idaho Senate in early March, the Idaho GOP was actively campaigning against it for two reasons; 1) The party wanted to keep the presidential primary in March, and 2) the party knew H138 did NOT move the presidential primary to May but actually eliminated it altogether, disenfranchising Republican voters.

Yet, the bill easily passed out of committee to the Senate floor and, from the floor, was sent to the amending order. Was this to correct the glaring problem that the bill eliminated the presidential primary altogether? No. It never got amended, but instead, it was parked in the amending order to buy time while Senate leadership decided how to proceed.

Finally, on March 23, the last week of the session, leadership moved H138 back to the floor for a vote. Idaho Freedom Caucus members and a few other Republican senators voted No, yet it still passed 23-11-1. Proponents claimed another bill was in the works that would clean up the mess of eliminating the presidential primary election and place it back into Idaho code with the regular May primary.

That bill, S1186, was rushed into production and came to the Senate floor on the same day, March 23. But it still needed to make it through the House State Affairs Committee and to the House floor for a vote. Frankly, you learn in the legislature never to rely on these clean-up bills, especially one started in the Senate to fix a House bill, since there are many hurdles to a bill becoming a law.

If the main bill, in this case H138, was not ready for prime time because of major deficiencies, it should have been amended or killed.

Sure enough, H138 passed and went to the governor. S1186, though it passed the Senate on the same day as H138 and was immediately transmitted to the House for action, did NOT pass out of House State Affairs and was not voted on by the House.

The governor signed H138 on March 30. At that point, S1186 was already dead in the House, but the governor signed H138 anyway, completely eliminating our Republican presidential primary election from either March or May 2024.

So Now What?

On June 24, 200+ GOP State Central Committee members met in Challis, Idaho, for the GOP summer meeting. The top priority was to address this new lack of a presidential primary election.

By October 1, Idaho must have its plan for choosing the presidential delegates for the National Republican nominating convention approved by the Republican National Committee.

H138 is now law. No presidential primary exists. The Idaho legislature is out of session until January 2024. It cannot fix this problem in time for the RNC’s October 1 deadline unless the legislature or the governor calls a special session. Because it takes 60% of both the Idaho House and the Senate membership to call a special session, and the governor has given no indication he will call a special session, this likely won’t happen.

At the summer GOP meeting, the SCC passed a rule that if the legislature and governor don’t fix this mess, the party will hold a caucus on Saturday, March 2, 2024, to select which Republican Presidential candidate our Idaho delegates will support at the National Republican Convention.

While this is not the ideal solution, it at least will be an exciting opportunity for Republicans in Idaho. The caucuses will be held in each county around the state on Saturday, March 2.

Make plans to attend. All Republican voters in Idaho will be eligible to participate and vote in their county’s caucus. It will be an exciting time!

More details will come from the Idaho GOP.