Tom Luna

Tom Luna

Idaho's former superintendent of public instruction is running for chairman of the state Republican Party.

"I've always been very passionate about the Republican Party and the values that it represents, and the good that those values bring to families and communities, (and) the state and the country," Tom Luna said Friday.

Kootenai County's Jennifer Locke has been the state GOP's acting chairwoman since former Chairman Jonathan Parker resigned in February. Parker was in the news again after he was arrested in Ada County on Thursday and charged with stalking his estranged wife. The state GOP central committee is slated to pick another chairman at its summer meeting in Boise on June 28 and 29, with the chairman vote set for the 29th.

Idaho Falls lawyer and current state GOP second vice chairman Bryan Smith, whose name had also been floated as a potential chairman candidate, told the Post Register on Friday he isn't running for the job. Another big question looming over the race is whether former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who lost last year's Republican gubernatorial primary to now-Gov. Brad Little, will run for chairman. Labrador, who didn't immediately respond to requests for comment, is rumored to be a candidate, the Idaho Reports blog reported Friday. Idaho is a heavily Republican state — Republicans hold about 80 percent of the Legislature's seats and every statewide office — and internal party politics can have a significant effect on public policy.

Luna, who was elected superintendent of public instruction in 2006 and served two four-year terms, pointed to his long history of involvement in the party. As well as running for superintendent and winning an office that, before him, was held by a Democrat, he mentioned his work at the precinct and county levels, his service on the Nampa school board and his continued involvement in the party after he didn’t run for re-election in 2014, including serving as financial chairman.

“It should be no surprise to anyone about my passion and the work I’ve done to help build the Republican Party in Idaho,” he said.

Luna told the Post Register he views the primary roles of the party chairman as promoting Republican values, identifying and recruiting conservative candidates and raising the money necessary to get them elected. These, he said, are the keys to keeping the Idaho Republican Party strong.

“Well when I win, I have always been one that works to bring people together and focus on vision, and from that vision create priorities and focus on those priorities,” he said.

Luna is perhaps best known for his support for his "Students Come First" initiative, also often called the "Luna laws," a package of education measures that included merit pay for teachers, limits on teachers' collective bargaining rights and providing laptops to high school students. The Legislature passed then in 2011, but teachers' unions opposed them and other education stakeholders were split. Voters repealed them at the ballot box in 2012.

In an email to central committee members announcing his candidacy, Luna said he believes "Idaho must remain the bastion of conservatism that it is." He said he would focus as chairman on advancing conservative values, recruiting conservative candidates, raising the money needed to win and "an aggressive well-organized grassroots effort."

"No one has more experience fighting the left and their liberal agenda than me," he wrote. "For eight years I took on the strongest liberal special interest groups in the country. They fought me as we expanded school choice, removed their stranglehold on local school boards, implemented pay for performance for our teachers and followed fiscally conservative principles in spending your tax dollars."

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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