By Sharon Fisher
When most people talk about the two-party system, they mean Democrats vs. Republicans. But in Idaho recently, it’s been Republicans vs. Republicans. And nowhere was that more true than at this past weekend’s state convention in Moscow.
It’s been going on since before the primary, with a slate of candidates running to the right of incumbents such as Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Most of the less-conservative people won in the primary (with the exception of Secretary of State candidate Lawerence Denney).
The primary election also included elections for precinct committeemen, which have largely been taken over by more conservative Republicans. With a concerted effort this year, a number of more moderate people were elected instead, and they elected Fred Tilman – a former legislator who also ran for legislator again in District 22 a couple of years ago – as the Ada County chairman.
That meeting also chose delegates to the state Republican convention, which is held every two years. Its purpose is to elect a party chairman and vote on the party platform. Because Ada County has the most people in it, it elects the most delegates – 102 out of about 600. And as with party officials, most of the delegates came from the less conservative side of the party. This led some of the more conservative members to claim there had been procedural issues in how they had been chosen. The stage was set for a battle.
In Moscow, a petition with 70 names on it – including District 22 legislators such as Rep. John Vander Woude and Sen. Russ Fulcher – was submitted asking to deny credentials to the Ada County delegates. State Party chairman Barry Peterson, who comes from the more conservative wing, then placed only four Ada County delegates on committees, although they were entitled to 33 positions, saying he hadn’t received a list from Tilman with his requests. In addition, many of the people Peterson placed on the credentials committee – which would decide whether to seat the Ada County delegates – were also from his more conservative wing.
The upshot is that many of the delegates from Ada County were denied credentials – after having paid $75 to attend, as well as the expenses of getting to and staying in Moscow – as were delegates from Bannock and Power Counties.
Chairing the convention was Congressman Raul Labrador, who had just announced that he was running for House Majority Leader — replacing Rep. Eric Cantor, who lost his Virginia primary to a more conservative candidate and resigned as Majority Leader. Because of the conflict, it took two hours just to call the roll. Labrador ended up adjourning the convention at 4 pm, without taking any votes on the party chairman, the party platform, or any of the rest of the business the party was supposed to transact.
In fact, because the convention did not vote to ratify it, all of the work done by the platform committee – including adding some new planks to the platform, as well as taking out the plank to repeal the 17th Amendment (which allows us to elect our own Senators rather than have the Legislature appoint them) – went to waste.
Meanwhile, the state party paid $18,000 to rent facilities for the meeting, and may have to refund up to $15,000 to the delegates who paid to attend and weren’t allowed to be seated.
People are still discussing the issue, with some conservatives saying they needed to hold a hard line to keep from being steamrollered, with others calling the process dysfunctional and a fiasco.
It’s going to be an interesting election season.