Ysursa Worries About Idaho's Low Voter Turnout, Not Denney's Partisanship

Jan 5, 2015

Ben Ysursa in the Idaho Secretary of State's office in December 2014. Lawerence Denney will take over the position, becoming just the third Secretary of State in nearly 50 years.
Credit Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho’s Secretary of State office changes hands this week after 12 years under the same elected leader. Lawerence Denney takes over for the retiring Ben Ysursa, who has been Idaho’s secretary of state for three terms.

Ysursa leaves as one of Idaho’s most respected political figures. Denney – a former Speaker of the Idaho House - raised eyebrows when he filed to run for the office. Some saw the Republican from Midvale as too partisan to run the state office that oversees elections, campaign finance, lobbying, and business filings.

Ysursa says he has heard the whispers regarding what Denney’s plan for the office – and policies on voter access – might be.

“I have some concerns, [but] not as much as other people would think,” Ysursa says. “Because I think Mr. Denney is in a different type of position. Being a Speaker is a more partisan position. I really don’t think he will have the opportunity to exhibit the partisanship that he did as Speaker.”

Citing a lack of "fire in the belly," Ysursa chose to retire after four decades in the office. Before being elected, Ysursa served since the mid 1970s as former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa’s top deputy.

So is he concerned about the future of the office?

“Not to the point I have a lot of anxiety about it,” Ysursa says. “I have to remember, and everybody else does too, it’s not 'my' office. It’s the people’s office. I happened to be a long-term tenant, but it’s the peoples’ office. I am worried a little bit.  You always are. I don’t want to say it’s like my baby, but I’ve been here a long time.”

Ysursa leaves office as Idaho's voter turnout remains low. Turnout in the November election was historically low. Ysursa says he doesn’t see low turnout as a failure on his part, but he is disappointed by what he views as many Americans’ indifference to voting. The Republican says in Idaho, his party’s dominance keeps some voters at home.

“Candidates and issues make turnout,” Ysursa says. “[People say] ‘then you want Democrats to get stronger.’ In a sense, yes. One party dominance hurts turnout.”

Ysursa isn't going into retirement. He's joined the regional policy, communications and lobbying firm Gallatin Public Affairs.

Find Scott Graf on Twitter @ScottGrafRadio

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