I have talked with a few people who are hoping that former state Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene would drop out of the race for lieutenant governor, clearing the way for House Speaker Scott Bedke to win the race in next year’s Republican primary.
It’s not that people dislike Malek or have a strong preference toward Bedke. The fear is that Malek and Bedke will split the vote — giving the GOP nomination, and essentially the office, to Rep. Priscilla Giddings of White Bird, a strong supporter of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and a favorite of the party’s right wing. It’s the same conservative tide that helped Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin win in 2018.
Malek is fully aware of recent political history, but his message is clear. He’s in the race to stay and thinks he has a path to win the nomination. He was the first to announce for the office and sees his support growing as he travels the Gem State.
There’s no need to back out now.
“There are always ‘what ifs’ with almost any campaign,” Malek said. “But I would bring positive leadership to the office and I think Idahoans are ready for that. I’m the only candidate who brings a vision for that office.”
Of course, voters will need to decide how much vision they want for an otherwise mundane office. Constitutionally, the job description can be boiled down to a sentence — preside over the Senate when the Legislature is in session and serve as “acting governor” when the real governor is out of town.
Beyond that, Malek wants to be an advocate for law enforcement, help spur economic development and promote education. Giddings, a leader in the battle against the teaching of critical race theory, is sure to fight for the causes promoted by the Idaho Freedom Foundation and others. Bedke would play a more traditional role, working as a partner with the governor (if Gov. Brad Little wins reelection) and using the position as a nice landing spot until he runs for governor in 2026.
The IFF, and those of Giddings’ ilk, have issues with Bedke (for not calling the Legislature into a special session to ban vaccine mandates) and Malek (for being too liberal). Malek has made it clear over the years that he’s no fan of the IFF and argues that he is the “true conservative” in the race.
“True conservatives stand for smaller government,” he says in a fundraising letter. “True conservatives don’t tell employers how to run their businesses. True conservatives understand that employers and employees both have to take personal responsibility for the choices they make.”
Malek takes a swipe at McGeachin and others for their demands for a special session. Bedke, not surprisingly, has ignored those calls.
“If employers make decisions that violate the principles of employees, those employees have the right to leave,” Malek says. “If employees make decisions that violate the principles of an employer, the employer has the power to terminate that employee.”
Generally, those are the rules of the road in an “at-will” state. Employers can fire employees for any reason — and up to now there has been no sentiment among Republicans to change those parameters.
“True conservatives don’t call on the Legislature to come back and violate all of those principles,” Malek says.
Those comments are not the mark of a candidate who is about to drop out of a political race. At 39 years old, and with most of our top leaders pretty long in the tooth, Malek thinks it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders.
We’ll see what the future holds.
Malloy is a veteran Idaho columnist. His email address is email@example.com