Thursday, June 01, 2023

MALLOY: McGrane ready for tough new job

| December 13, 2022 1:00 AM

Here’s how a transition should work.

A day after Phil McGrane was elected as Idaho’s secretary of state, he had a friendly lunch with retiring Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and his chief deputy, Chad Houck. As McGrane observed, “I’m pretty sure we were the only ones that had lunch together.”

He’s probably right. It hasn’t been so smooth with Superintendent Sherri Ybarra and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who celebrated their election defeats by handing out a series of big raises and bonuses — at taxpayer expense.

McGrane and Denney were not always best of pals. They were opponents eight years ago in the race for secretary of state, won by Denney, and it was a hard-fought campaign. But the two maintained a common goal, which was to ensure the integrity of Idaho elections. Denney was the lead elections officer for the state while McGrane served as the Ada County clerk. McGrane accepted the election results and he has had a constructive working relationship with Denney ever since.

Denney has made it a practice in his eight years not to endorse candidates in any race, so we didn’t hear about who he liked — or disliked — in the hotly contested primary election that featured McGrane, Rep. Dorothy Moon (now the state Republican Party chair) and Sen. Mary Souza. But when McGrane’s election became official in November (he ran unopposed), Denney was “all in” for McGrane.

“Secretary Denney has gone out of his way to make this transition as smooth as possible for me,” McGrane said.

That’s a good thing, because McGrane needs all the support he can get — at a time when many people think that elections have the integrity of a Ponzi scheme. There are Idahoans who think that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against Donald Trump, and I imagine there are more than a few who back Trump’s call to upend the Constitution and put him back in power.

And this is a job that McGrane wanted? Absolutely. McGrane has been preparing for this job for a long time and he relishes the challenges that come with the job.

“I’ve had a good relationship over the years with the Legislature, but there are a lot of new folks this year and some were elected because they were not satisfied with elections. I look forward to working with them on building confidence in our elections and on policy issues,” McGrane said.

“We have a good elections system in our state,” he says. “Take a look at the post-election audits that were done recently as well as the ones done in May. I’ve been around this for a long time, but I was surprised that we had maybe a one-vote variance here and there from hundreds of thousands of votes. That shows how robust our system is.”

There are doubters, including the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Wayne Hoffman, who says we should not blindly trust government officials who say that elections are sound. Sure, there was a mixup in District 26 (the Magic Valley) when it appeared initially that Democrat Karma Metzler Fitzgerald had won a House race. There was some confusion with election tabulations, and the victory went to Republican Jack Nelson.

On the positive side, the error was spotted and corrected without corruption or coverup. McGrane sees that matter as evidence that the election system is working.

Something that McGrane will need to deal with is fatigue among the county clerks, some of whom are fed up with the new level of pressures that go with the job. As a county clerk, McGrane can empathize with those who are seeing retirement as a good option.

“They need to know that they are not alone,” McGrane says. “One of the things I’d like added to the budget is a voting systems specialist who knows the systems inside and out and can provide answers to questions. One of the jobs of the secretary of state is to make sure what works in Ada County also works in Clark County.”

A secretary of state has other duties, including corporate filings, the filing of legislation and service on the state Land Board. One change is that his office will be open during the lunch hour, for the convenience of working people.

Ultimately, McGrane will be judged according to how elections are conducted in the Gem State. He has the expertise to do the job … we should wish him well.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at

Correction: In last week’s column, I incorrectly identified the status of Idaho’s same-sex marriage laws. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Idaho since 2014.

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