Until recently, Republican state superintendent candidate John Eynon was secretary of the state’s Constitution Party.
He left the third party shortly before filing paperwork to run on the GOP ticket.
Eynon’s campaign manager downplays the maneuvering — describing Eynon as a 40-year Republican who left the GOP for about 12 to 18 months. But the acting chairman of the Constitution Party calls Eynon’s moves “mercurial,” and says Eynon had indicated he would run on the Constitution Party ticket as recently as Jan. 9.
Who is John Eynon?
At Cottonwood’s Prairie Junior-Senior High School, Eynon teaches music and drama programs. On Jan. 17, the Grangeville resident filed a form naming a campaign treasurer, a precursor to raising money and running for what is now an open statewide race.
He is, for now, one of only two Republicans who have filed paperwork to run for superintendent — American Falls school principal Randy Jensen is the other. And on Monday, Republican incumbent Tom Luna surprised many political observers by announcing his plans to step down after his term ends in early January.
Eynon’s campaign website is replete with criticisms of the Idaho Core Standards — a centerpiece of Luna’s eight-year tenure in office. But it is light with references to the Republican Party, save for a GOP elephant logo on the bottom left-hand corner of the campaign home page. In a pitch for support, Eynon describes himself as follows: “Volunteer to help make a true constitutional conservative Idaho’s next superintendent of public instruction!”
This much isn’t in dispute. In 2013, Eynon served as state secretary for the Constitution Party — a third party that contends that the Republican Party is committed to moderation and uninterested in restoring constitutional principles. “With the ‘big tent’ philosophy, the GOP has become a house divided against itself,” the Idaho Constitution Party says on its website. “The party is composed of people on both sides of definitive issues such as abortion, special rights for homosexuals and entitlements for big corporations.”
There also is no dispute that Eynon left the Constitution Party, and the officer’s position.
Campaign manager Mary Adler downplays Eynon’s time with the Constitution Party. Adler — a Grangeville resident who has known Eynon for a couple of years — says Eynon left the GOP briefly because he was “dismayed” with the party’s direction on issues such as the health care exchange. But as he talked to grassroots Republicans, he had a change of heart.
“We just kind of encouraged him back over,” Adler said.
She describes Eynon as a 40-year Republican. This is his first campaign for office.
In May 2012, for the first time in decades, a voter had to register as a Republican to participate in the GOP’s primary. Eynon voted as a Republican in May 2012, according to Idaho County elections records.
A ‘mercurial’ move
Adler describes Eynon’s split with the Constitution Party as amicable. F.W. Whitley, the party’s acting chairman, calls the move “unexpected and unwanted.” But also an abrupt surprise.
Whitley tells Idaho Education News that Eynon emailed him on Jan. 8, saying he was prepared to run for state superintendent as a Constitution Party candidate. Whitley says the two met the following afternoon over coffee, at a Cottonwood restaurant, to discuss the campaign.
On Jan. 15, Whitley says he received another email from Eynon — this time tendering his resignation as state party treasurer. This was two days before Eynon filed campaign paperwork to run as a Republican.
“What would cause the mercurial changes regarding Mr. Eynon, I cannot say, and will not hazard to guess,” Whitley said.
However, Whitley did offer a theory in a subsequent email. In other Western states, GOP leaders have recruited candidates to defect from the Constitution Party ticket to run under the Republican banner.
“The Republican technique is then to push these new candidates from the (Constitution Party) through their primary process, where the established party then defeats them; that way they do not have to compete against them in a general election,” he said.
At this point, Whitley said, the Constitution Party is looking for a new state party secretary. And a candidate for state superintendent.