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Hostile Takeover 

Forget Ukraine; Republicans in North Idaho are moving in to occupy ballot spots that belong to Democrats

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What is there in the Idaho atmosphere that lets crazy things happen? Now the Kootenai Democratic Party has been invaded by a gang of ultra-conservative Republicans who have filed for Democratic Precinct Committee positions along with Larry Spencer, who is running for County Assessor — as a Democrat.

Kootenai County Democrats are baffled. What have we done to deserve this unfriendly takeover? Have these party-hopping wanderers been swayed by the County Elections brochure, which lists options for Constitutionalists or Libertarians to participate in the primaries as "Democrats or Non-partisan"? Maybe they flipped a coin and chose to gang up on Democrats? Or did they just move so far to the right that they fell off their Flat Earth?

In 2012, Spencer, a candidate for County Commissioner on the Republican primary ballot, was rejected by Republican voters who chose incumbent Commissioner Dan Green by a comfortable margin. Spencer has a disturbing record of stirring up trouble. He defines himself as "a professional political operative." Once he sent out 26,000 letters asking voters to reject a school bond. The bond failed.

Now we Democrats are proud of the size of our big tent. We welcome all people, regardless of color, creed, economic status, whatever. However, we do expect candidates running on the Democratic ticket to agree on some basic tenets — primarily that government plays an important role in securing a stable society where all people have the opportunity to succeed in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A wild, idealistic vision, I know, but we believe in it, as do most reasonable Republicans and Independents.

The issue here is not the difference between Republicans and Democrats. The question is one of honesty. Is all really fair in love, war and politics? Let's hope not.

Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, Idaho voters didn't have to tell anyone which party had earned their allegiance. Party preference was a voter's own private business. ("And none of yours, thank you very much.") Most Idaho voters liked it that way. It put a good, Western, live-and-let-live spin on the election process. At primary time, your snoopy neighbor, your paranoid employer, even your spouse couldn't read either your mind or your ballot.

But this arrangement made too much sense to last. Republicans kept complaining about those darn Democrats who keep voting in their primary and producing results that are simply not sufficiently pure. The rumble became a roar, and in 2011 the Idaho Legislature passed a bill to allow political parties to close their primaries.

We big-tent Democrats pooh-poohed the Republicans for closing their ranks. How smart was that? Well, here we are, caught with the welcome mat out for Constitutionalists, Libertarians, Republicans and Independents.

Lots of Democrats and Independents retain their habit of voting in the Republican primary by simply registering Republican. Such voters have a very persuasive argument — if the winner of the primary has no viable Democratic opponent, the primary race is the final race. Understandably, people don't want to be left out of that choice.

Equally persuasive is the argument for Democrats to stay with their own ballot. There are important statewide and federal races where two Democrats battle for the same office. Party officials point out that two years ago, the favored candidate for Congress, Jimmy Farris, almost lost the primary race because too many Democrats wandered across party lines to vote Republican.

The most significant factor, as Precinct Committeeperson Cheryl Stransky has pointed out, is that there is a big, big difference between voting for a Democrat and running as a Democratic candidate, or voting for a Republican and running as a Republican.

Spencer and his cohorts are crossing an ethical line by pretending to be something they are not. In a letter to fellow Democrats, Stransky wrote: "This group is trying to confuse voters with the ultimate purpose of adopting the Democratic label under false pretenses."

Voters do not deserve any additional confusion. Or any deceptive pranks.

I fall back on my long-held interpretation of the reason for primary elections. Flawed and inconsistent as it is, the primary election process in our democracy serves as the only tool we have to nominate candidates for elected positions. As such, a primary election can be just as important as a general election in November.

The primary is a serious responsibility handed to the political parties. Forays such as the Spencer-led ones into another party's territory are not amusing. They are a slap in the face of democracy and the public trust.

So Kootenai County Democrats: Beware of Republicans in false clothing; they are after your political identity. And stick with your own party ballot. ♦

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