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GOP candidates not fearing probable run by Yates

May 7, 2017 GMT

A month ago, I wrote a column — just one little column — and what happens?

Out goes David Johnston, the executive director of the Idaho Republican Party. Then Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates follows Johnston out the door a week after that.

Yates says the column, based on an interview with him about his interest in running for lieutenant governor, was a factor in his earlier-than-planned departure as the state party chair. There were a few sour reactions from some Republicans. Johnston’s departure from Yates described as a “burn-out job,” had nothing to do with anything I wrote. He had been looking for other opportunities for some time. So best wishes to him.

Yates had planned to leave in conjunction with the state party’s summer meeting in Coeur d’Alene. But after further thought, he decided it would be better to resign now and give potential successors a fair shot at running for the position. It also clears the way to run for lieutenant governor.

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After the column was published, Yates heard a few snide comments about him using his position as state party chair to promote a run for office — an allegation that he adamantly denies. Yates put a lot of the party’s broken pieces together in 2014 after a failed convention and kept the GOP on a positive track last year. He says the thought of running for office didn’t enter his mind until a couple of months ago, and I see no reason to disbelieve him. I chatted with Yates during a summer party gathering at a Boise Hawks baseball game, and saw no signs of a man looking at running for lieutenant governor, or any other office. His purpose was to watch a little baseball and keep the party’s spirits high heading into the November elections.

In my recent interview with Yates, he seemed to be hoping that his run for lieutenant governor would discourage others from running. That certainly didn’t happen. Sen. Marv Hagedorn of Meridian, the first announced candidate for the position, was quick with a response.

“Having been an Idahoan most of my life, growing up with Idahoans and having lived in both northern and southern Idaho has provided me a perspective of why we are who we are,” he said. “I’ve appreciated Steve’s efforts to bring our party together (as a volunteer in a part-time job), but three years dealing with party officials doesn’t give one the perspective of what Idaho is and who Idahoans really are.”

At least one longtime North Idaho legislator, who asked not to be named, isn’t impressed with Yates.

“He has never darkened my doorstep, nor called, nor directly emailed me just to reach out and say hello, or to visit in general during his entire time as our party chairman,” the legislator said. “He is not known outside of a very small circle in North Idaho and, again, he certainly hasn’t looked for any level of connection in my legislative district or me.”

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Last month, two other candidates have announced for lieutenant governor — Rep. Kelley Packer of McCammon and former Rep. Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls — and others may get in. So far it’s a quality field. I worked some with Hagedorn and McGeachin years ago when they were in the House and I was communication adviser for the Republican caucus. They’re good people. I don’t know Packer well and, except for a couple of clashes with Wayne Hoffman and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, she hasn’t drawn a lot of attention to herself during her three terms. But she has some strong committee assignments and appears to be a solid legislator.

I’ll still give the edge to Yates for his political networking statewide. Connections with the Republican Central Committee do not guarantee victory in an election, but it lays some foundation in a Republican primary race.

But don’t bank too heavily on my predictions. I thought the Falcons would win the Super Bowl and was certain that Gonzaga would take down North Carolina in the NCAA basketball championship game. I predicted that Dustin Johnson would win the Master’s. As the legendary Harry Missildine, the late and great Spokesman-Review sportswriter, would say about my prognostications, “He can’t pick his nose.”

A crowded primary — where 26 percent of the vote could win — is far more difficult to handicap than sporting events.

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.