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Former Idaho Gov. Butch Otter speaks out in support of open primary initiative, IDGOP chair criticizes idea

More than 100 community-known Republicans have signed on to the idea to open Idaho's primary elections. The IDGOP doesn't share the sentiment.
Credit: AP
Idaho Republicans, including former Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, gather at the Statehouse, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023 (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)

BOISE, Idaho — Leaders with the initiative group Idahoans for Open Primaries are confident the people of the Gem State support their idea to change how Idaho’s elections work.

“I'll guarantee you it will be up for vote in 2024. It's going to be a game changer,” said Jim Jones, retired Idaho Supreme Court leader and with Idahoans for Open Primaries.

Jones, speaking at the Idaho State Capitol on Wednesday, said longtime Republicans support the open primary concept as a way to rein in extreme GOP behavior in the state.

“I heard from so many of those people like Sally Patano and Jack Riggs, how the Republicans in their area have just gone off the rails and they don't attend to business like Republicans did years ago,” Jones said.  

The initiative aims to change primaries to an open format with instant runoff general elections. This is also called ranked-choice voting. In short, primary elections would include all political parties. The top four vote-getters in the primary, regardless of political affiliation, go to the general election. Voters then rank their top four in the general election, with the winner needing at least 50% of the vote.

“We've got to work as hard as they do and be nice about it,” former Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said.

Otter is one of 116 community-known Republicans statewide who align as traditional Republicans in support of the initiative. To him, this is about bringing civility back to the Idaho GOP and state politics. KTVB asked for his thoughts on the state GOP led by Chair Dorothy Moon:

“I would say they have some extremist ways. I don't think to the core they are the whole Central Committee is that way because there was some pretty good battles," Otter said. "There was some pretty good resistance to doing what the party eventually did, and that's a good thing. That's something that I see that looks promising.”

Idaho Republican Party leaders like Moon have spoken out numerous times against the initiative. They said it will allow Democrats to select Republican nominees. Otter believes the initiative would result in the best leaders.

“Anybody that is against the open primary is, as I think, is concerned about their own individual particular race and they're being selfish with the voters,” Otter said.  

Republicans who disagree worry the initiative invites outsiders into the race. Some went as far as to call the campaign a liberal plot to exploit the Republican stronghold of Idaho. Chair Moon wrote in an August newsletter: Make no mistake, this initiative is a pernicious plot to take away your ability to vote for conservative lawmakers. The blanket primary takes away your right to nominate your own candidates — just as BYU doesn’t get to decide who starts at quarterback for BSU, neither should Democrats get to vote on who represents the Republican Party in the general election.

KTVB asked Otter about a line former GOP Chair Tom Luna mentioned frequently, the idea that the Republican Party is a major tent with a variety of conservatives welcome. The former governor doesn’t see it that way anymore.

“I think it's become very narrow, and I think it's shoved a lot of people out from participation and out from activity,” Otter said. 

IDGOP Chair Dorothy Moon responded to the statements made Wednesday in a statement. Her full thoughts are included below:

“It is with great disappointment that we address the statement made today by former Governor Butch Otter, in which he expressed his support for the Reclaim Idaho initiative, a radical leftist push for ranked choice voting and a blanket top-4 primary in Idaho. It is essential to recognize the ramifications of such a statement.

The overlap between the so-called Republicans who are endorsing the ranked choice voting initiative and those who supported the Democrat candidate in last year's race for Attorney General is indeed noteworthy. You have to ask yourself who Otter, Jim Jones, and their friends really represent. It is clear that some individuals, when faced with electoral challenges, seek to alter the rules rather than engage in the process.

Butch Otter, Jim Jones, and others who align with the Democrats and leftists on this initiative should understand that the core principles of the Republican Party are rooted in individual liberty, limited government, and personal responsibility. The Reclaim Idaho initiative, as proposed, undermines these principles and compromises the integrity of our elections.

The Republican Party, at both the national (RNC) and state levels have already overwhelmingly rejected ranked choice voting with strong resolutions condemning it. Idaho Legislators, representing the will of the people, passed a law banning ranked choice voting in Idaho, reflecting our party's commitment to preserving the principles upon which our state was founded.

It is crucial to reject the divisive rhetoric that Butch Otter uses, attempting to label the grassroots of the party and the IDGOP leadership as radical extremists. Idahoans have consistently shown their preference for conservative values, and our party should be focused on upholding those values, rather than resorting to baseless accusations.” -IDGOP CHAIR DOROTHY MOON.

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