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In 1994, I voted for a Republican. And not just any ol’ Republican. I voted for Helen Chenoweth, viewed (at least by Democrats) as being one of the loonier fruitcakes in the post-holidays discount bin. She was at the time what Sarah Palin would become on the national level 14 years later, or what Marjorie Taylor Green is today: the “Are-You-Kidding?” candidate.

Four years earlier, I had campaigned for a seat in the state legislature as a Democrat. For years before that, I had stuffed envelopes, worked phone banks, canvassed neighborhoods, etc., all for Democrat hopefuls. I have voted Democrat from the first vote I ever cast (1968, for Frank Church), and I have every reason to believe I will not only remain a Democrat to my dying day, but a proud one at that.

So why, back in ‘94, did I vote for a person diametrically opposed of everything I was, am, and ever shall be? Two reasons, and neither one would have gotten me to do such a horrid thing without the other.

Reason One: I could. Idaho Republicans had not yet closed their primaries — that wouldn’t come until 2011, when the itchy-scratchy farthest right gained enough clout to enact a policy that nobody from outside their flock should be allowed to have any say in what sort of detritus they offer up as candidates — so there was nothing stopping me from voting for Chenoweth, and I did.

Reason Two: I could not fathom the possibility that this demonstrably crackers crackpot could end up representing Idaho in the U.S. Congress. You see, in ‘94, there was actually a Democrat in the House, Larry LaRocco, and we wanted him to stay there. The Republicans’ powerhouse candidate in that election year was David Leroy — one of those thoughtful Republicans from once upon a time. So my rationale was, since Leroy had the best chance of beating LaRocco, then the best bet was to see to it he didn’t get past the primary.

We’ll never know how many other Democrats did the same, but I know I wasn’t the only one. And even if you’re new to Idaho and know nothing of what happened in this state before the day you drove to the U-Haul lot to return the van that brought you here, you’ve probably guessed the outcome of our machinations. Chenoweth won the primary, won the general, and eventually won three terms to the U.S. House. For six excruciating years, hardly a week went by when she wasn’t embarrassing the state in one dumb way or another. We had seriously miscalculated how far Idaho had already sunk into the quasi-fascist quicksand.

Once again, there are tremors among Idaho Democrats that a viable solution to the blatant insanity of our current state politics might be for Dems to vote Republican. And it isn’t just Democrats doing the tremoring. A leading voice for the shift is Jim Jones, ex-state attorney general, ex-state supreme court justice, and an eminently thoughtful person. (I apologize if earlier I left the impression that there weren’t any thoughtful Republicans left in the state. There are, but they are few and far between.)

The difference in thinking between 1994 and today is not for Dems to vote for the gooniest on the primary ticket, but the candidate nearest to being moderate. A sad reality in Idaho anymore is that the craziest will likely win, primary and general, if the decision is left solely to the Trump-suckling base.

Jones, along with other not-so-bonkers Republicans and what seems to be a growing number of Dems and Independents, believes that the only way off of this Mobius strip of dimwittery is a coalition of forces voting together to expunge the more robustly nuts. Of course, it would require those so inclined to register as Republicans, but that doesn’t leave any lasting taint. I did it myself, shortly after they first closed their primary.

Other Democrats argue against the plot, insisting that it could have unintended consequences and I can certainly understand their reasoning, having contributed to such an outcome, myself. Among all the other things Helen Chenoweth was, an unintended consequence was definitely one of them.

Another argument the skeptical make is that what passes for a moderate Republican in Idaho would still be comedian fodder in less retrograde environs and another valid point that is. Any significant policy differences between Brad Little and Janice McGeachin, for example, could be listed on a postage stamp. These days, every Republican running for any office in Idaho is going to be to the right of Ted Nugent ... or at least claim to be.

I can offer no guidance to those Democrats struggling to decide if they should register red. I have no insight into whether it might help, or hurt. But I can say this: Merely registering Republican does not mean you ever have to do anything about it. It simply allows you another layer of choice. Nor does it mean you would no longer be eligible to vote in an inter-Democrat race; Idaho Democrat leaders have repeatedly assured us that they will never consider doing something as authoritarian as closing their primaries.

Which returns us to why I registered Republican 10 years ago, even though to date, I have never put that party membership to any use. I did it because closed primaries are, by their nature, a tool of voter suppression, yet another way of rubbing our noses in the power — if only in states as reflexively autocratic as Idaho — to dictate the terms and conditions of democracy. I registered Republican because I could, and because they couldn’t stop me. I did it because it comforts me to know that, on their rosters of the (presumably) faithful, they have no way of knowing who really is and who isn’t. I did it because, given the constant turmoil and turbulence they foment in Idaho’s politics, they deserve to be as nervous as they make us.

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