On the evening of Friday, June 19, I had the unique opportunity to receive real-time reports as Republican precinct chairs picked three possible replacements to be sent to Gov. Butch Otter for former State Sen. Dean Cameron, who was recently appointed state Insurance Director.
I was working at home that night but spent hours glued to my phone.
Cameron was from District 27, one of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, each with one state senator and two state representatives. His district encompassed both Minidoka County and Cassia County. The county seats are Rupert and Burley.
In Idaho, when a legislative seat is vacant, three potential legislative replacements are nominated by the legislative district committee of the same political party as the previous office holder and the governor makes the final selection from those three nominees. See Idaho Code § 59-904A. The legislative district committee consists of the precinct officers for the legislative process.
There is little guidance how such a process is actually to be conducted, but the Mini-Cassia folks should be commended for how they proceeded and the public spirit they manifested.
Thanks to Burley attorney Paul Ross, I received a stream of text messages throughout the affair. It was held at Burley High School, and a large crowd turned out.
Ross noted: “There was a great turnout. Out of 36 precinct chairs, 31 turned out. It shows the desire to participate in the process. Between 100 to 150 residents turned out to watch on a Friday night. That kind of dedication reflects well on the Mini-Cassia area.”
The meeting was chaired by House Speaker Scott Bedke, who is from the area. The decision makers, as directed by the state statute, were precinct chairs from both Minidoka County and Cassia County. Precinct chairs are elected in even number years in their individual precincts and are tied to a particular political party. They constitute grass roots politics at its most fundamental level.
The candidates were Kelly Anthon (Rupert City administrator), Charlie Creason (former president of Project Mutual Telephone), Clay Handy (a former Cassia County Commissioner), Wayne Hurst (former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers), Harold Mohlman (primary challenger to Cameron in 2010), Doug Pickett (challenged Cameron in 2012 and ran for GOP chair last year), Wayne Shenk (a Rupert farmer) and John Stokes (a local grocery executive).
The process adopted was to allow each candidate 5 minutes to make a pitch followed by questions to which all eight candidates could respond.
In his introductory remarks, Mohlman talked about his background as a firefighter and water executor.
Stokes stated he was an executive and patriot.
Hurst said he was a loyal, faithful and dutiful Republican, a workhorse, not a showhorse.
Schenk spoke on water, electricity, education and transportation, promising leadership.
Pickett said he was uniquely qualified having run before against Cameron. He noted that he won in Cassia County in the 2012 primary.
Creason pointed out his family had been in the area for over 100 years that there was a history of long-serving legislators, and he wanted to be one of them.
Anthon claimed he could bridge the gap between Cassia and Minidoka Counties, noting his ties to Declo and his wife from Rupert. He said his history in Rupert government showed he can deliver limited government.
Hurst focused on his history in politics.
The group questions were fascinating: What do hope to accomplish over the next five years? What are the biggest issues in the Mini-Cassia area over the next ten years? What is your philosophy on tax structures? Who do you support for president (one for Romney, another for Carson, and one vote for Walker or Paul or Rubio, another for Cruz with most undecided)? What to do about water? How to maintain public education? How would you improve transportation funding? What is your position on urban renewal?
I was struck by the “big picture” nature of the questions.
After the candidates spoke, the precinct chairs weighed in, voting in three separate rounds.
The first ballot round determined the group’s top choice. The second ballot round chose the second choice, and the third round picked the final nominee. The voting rounds each consisted of multiple ballots. In the first ballot, the lowest two candidates were eliminated. And the same procedure was followed for the second ballot. From there on, one candidate was eliminated each time until a winner emerged.
The top choice of Mini-Cassia Republicans was Rupert administrator Kelly Anthon. The number two choice was Doug Pickett, and the third candidate was Wayne Hurst.
Gov. Otter has 15 days to pick from the three nominees (he may have done so by the time this article appears). If he does not make a choice in that period, the decision will go back to the 36 Mini-Cassia precinct officers to determine the next state senator from the area.
I salute the 150 residents who decided good government was worth giving up their Friday night. Sometimes Americans are cynical about our political process and its future. But, if folks are as engaged as those in the Burley-Rupert area, that can only bode well.