BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican state Rep. Lawerence Denney announced his run for Idaho secretary of state Thursday, while incumbent Ben Ysursa remains undecided on seeking a fourth term.
The secretary of state is Idaho's top election regulator and has a seat on the Land Board, which oversees 2.5 million acres of state endowment land whose proceeds go to benefit Idaho public schools, prisons, mental hospitals and universities.
At an event in the Idaho Capitol in Boise, Denney, a Midvale wheat farmer, pledged to pursue election fraud allegations and to work against the Idaho Department of Land's push to expand into commercial real estate, if he wins the 2014 GOP primary in May and the November general election. He's been among critics of recent Land Board deals, including the 2010 purchase of a Boise self-storage business.
"The decisions over the past few years of the land board purchasing commercial property are troubling," Denney told a crowd of about 25 people. "But more troubling is their long-range goal of buying more commercial property. State government should not be in direct competition" with the private sector.
Denney, who in 2013 pushed legislation urging Idaho to take over millions of acres of federal land within its borders, outlined his 30-year experience with the Idaho Republican Party and his nine terms in the Idaho Legislature. He served as House speaker for three terms until 2012, when he was ousted from that post by Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.
"I've been sensitive to the wishes of my party and for the most, part have always followed the Republican platform," said Denney, who appeared with his wife, Donna, two daughters and a grandson.
On Thursday, Ysursa said he remains uncertain about his political future. "I've been in agonizing internal deliberations for quite a while," Ysursa, 64, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Denney said he discussed his run with Ysursa, adding that the possibility of an open seat helped convince him to run for the post. Though both Republicans, they've been on opposite sides of intraparty divisions.
For instance, Ysursa backed the Land Board's storage business acquisition that Denney criticized. Additionally, Denney was among Republicans who closed the GOP primary elections to all but registered party members starting in 2012. Ysursa went to court to try to block that effort, but lost.
Meanwhile, Ysursa succeeded in scuttling a bid by Denney and then-Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semenko to fire Republican members of the redistricting committee in 2012 on grounds that the election map they helped draw didn't sufficiently defend party interests.
Several conservative lawmakers attended Denney's announcement Thursday, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who last week announced he's running against Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter in May's primary. Both pledged support for Denney, even if Ysursa runs.
"I think Ben's gotten sideways with the party on some issues," Moyle said.
Should Ysursa bow out, Denney still could have challengers in the GOP primary.
Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, a Boise Republican and ex-deputy attorney general, is considering a campaign.
"If Ben decides not to go again, I will take a real hard look at it," Toryanski said Thursday. "As deputy attorney general, I represented the secretary of state's office... Election law is one of the areas I practiced. Ben was one of my primary clients. I think it would be a great fit."
Additionally, Phil McGrane, chief deputy court clerk in Ada County, says he's considering campaigning — but also only if Ysursa retires.
McGrane, a 32-year-old Republican who oversees elections in Idaho's most-populous county, said Ysursa's leadership since assuming the post from the late Pete Cenarrusa in 2002 would be the model he'd seek to emulate.
"I'm a really big supporter of Ben," said McGrane, also a lawyer. "Both he and Pete have led that office and done an extraordinary job. To the extent I'm interested in the position, it's to carry that torch."