Former Republican Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene is running for lieutenant governor next year, but what remains to be seen is who he runs against and how crowded the field will be.
Much depends on what Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin decides. There’s wide speculation that she will run for governor next year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see her running for re-election if another conservative candidate emerges at the top of the ticket.
Malek, who has a law practice in Coeur d’Alene and Boise, says he’s fine with however it shakes out. If the lieutenant governor’s race is an open seat, and the field is crowded, he’ll offer plenty of strong talking points. He’s 39 years old with ample experience in the Legislature. He finished third in a seven-way primary race for Congress in 2018, which was won easily by Rep. Russ Fulcher. But Malek created a positive name recognition for himself, finishing a percentage point behind former Lt. Gov. David Leroy.
If Malek ends up going against McGeachin, he’s ready – if not eager – for the challenge. He’d be nothing like McGeachin in personality or style, and he would not make a dent into her right-wing base. But he offers appeal to a more centrist crowd that is put off by her lack of support for the governor on the coronavirus pandemic.
“She has endless criticism and absolutely no viable solutions,” Malek says. “Late last year, after months of ignoring all the hard work the governor, legislators and private citizens have put into preserving our economy, she publicized an idea that would have put government price regulations on private salaries in the healthcare industry, and put unproven gas chambers at the Capitol at $17 million in taxpayer expense. When those ideas were laughed out of the room, she reverts to attempting to undermine the governor’s credibility.”
Overall, Malek offers praise for Little in the face of criticisms from McGeachin and legislators. “Governor Little may in fact be doing better than any other governor in the U.S. in continuing to keep people safe and preserve our economy. Meanwhile, the number of cases continues to decline and our economy not only survives, but is poised to thrive while neighboring states like Washington have economies that are left in shambles.”
If he were the lieutenant governor, Malek says he would serve as a liaison the small businesses and families “that desperately need to be heard as policy decisions impact their businesses and lives.”
Malek would be more of a “team player” in a Republican administration – at least as long as Little remains as governor. The team-player concept might not work so well with McGeachin or former Congressman Raul Labrador in the governor’s chair, but that’s for voters to sort out.
Malek is getting a relatively early start in fund-raising and organizing, but not too early with a primary election looming in May of next year.
“One thing I learned from Congress is that you need lots of time to talk with the number of folks you need to run an effective campaign,” he said.
He has a long list of early supporters, including Rep. Rick Youngblood of Nampa, the co-chair of the Legislature’s joint budgeting committee. Former long-time Rep. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint also is backing Malek.
“He’s a bright individual and an Idahoan. I can’t think of a better candidate for lieutenant governor,” Youngblood says of Malek. “People of his age group need to step forward. I worked with him for two terms on JFAC. He watched budgets, worked with the agencies and showed up prepared – while carrying other bills.”
Keough says Malek has “the knowledge, expertise and background to carry out the responsibilities of the office. Working alongside of Luke while in the Legislature, I observed his commitment to even the smallest task and his ability to craft solutions to complex challenges and then get those solutions passed into law. Luke has also demonstrated his business skills in the private sector and knows what it takes to start from scratch and build and maintain a business or enterprise.”
On paper, the lieutenant governor doesn’t have massive responsibilities beyond presiding over the Senate when the Legislature is in session and serving as acting governor when the boss is out of the state. But regardless of who ends up running, the race for that office next year will be far from dull.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org