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TUESDAY, JAN. 24, 2012, 4:51 P.M.

Will they? Won’t they? Redistricting dispute still murky…

The day has ended without word from the Idaho Supreme Court on its next move on the Idaho GOP's lawsuit challenging the makeup of the state's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa contends the panel can reconvene on Thursday as planned even if it just has four members present – minus the two disputed seats – because four members constitute a quorum. "Unless there's an injunction, they're going to convene on Thursday at 9 a.m.," Ysursa told The Associated Press today. But House Speaker Lawerence Denney said he thought the Thursday meeting would have to be delayed. “I'm not sure if they (the Supreme Court justices) can or will rule" in time, Denney said. Click below for AP reporter John Miller's wrapup of the day's developments on the fast-changing political dispute within the state's dominant political party.

APNewsBreak: GOP files Idaho redistricting lawsuit
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's efforts to draw new legislative district maps have produced yet another lawsuit, with the Republican Party filing a complaint Tuesday against Secretary of State Ben Ysursa for refusing to recognize party officials' authority to fire redistricting commissioners.

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and GOP Chairman Norm Semanko want to eject two of the three Republican redistricting commissioners on the six-member bipartisan panel.

But Randy Hansen, a former Twin Falls legislator, and Dolores Crow, a former House member from Nampa, have declined to resign, setting the stage for this bitter fight that's pitted party official against party official.

Ysursa "would not acknowledge their authority to terminate the commissioners' employment and would not declare a vacancy," according to the lawsuit. Denney and Semanko "will suffer irreparable harm if this court does not issue an order requiring the secretary of state to comply with the Constitution," the document states.

Denney and Semanko were unhappy with the approved maps, which were later ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, and moved to eject the commissioners.

Jonathan Parker, the state Republican Party executive director, has said Semanko thinks a new commissioner is necessary in part because the previous map was ruled unconstitutional.

And Denney said last week that members of his House caucus were unhappy with Republicans on the commission because they "gave too much away" to minority Democrats by joining a unanimous vote approving the redistricting maps in October.

As replacements, Denney and Semanko on Tuesday named former state Rep. Bob Forrey of Nampa and GOP activist Angela Cross of Post Falls.

In a statement, Semanko said he filed the lawsuit "to ensure that their new commission appointments are recognized and seated when the commission reconvenes."

The redistricting panel is due to meet again Thursday to revise its map after the previous plan was thrown out by Supreme Court justices who ruled last week that it divided too many counties to be constitutional.

Ysursa contends the panel can reconvene — even without Hansen and Crow — and still constitute a four-person quorum capable of voting on new legislative maps.

"Unless there's an injunction, they're going to convene on Thursday at 9 a.m.," he told The Associated Press.

But Denney said he's uncertain if the panel will actually meet, given this latest lawsuit has thrown its makeup into uncertainty.

"I'm not sure if they (the Supreme Court justices) can or will rule" in time, Denney said.

At issue are two competing legal opinions: one from Republican Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office, the other from private GOP lawyer Christ Troupis.

In the attorney general's interpretation, Denney and Semanko have the power to appoint members of the redistricting commission, but they don't have the authority to remove them.

"If the claim is made that a member has been removed ... such removal should not be recognized by the secretary of state absent expressed removal authority," wrote Brian Kane, chief deputy attorney general, last Friday.

Ysursa is following Kane's advice, saying that allowing Denney and Semanko to intervene inappropriately guts the redistricting commission's independence, the whole reason why voters created it back in 1994 after bitter partisan fights when the Idaho Legislature was still drawing up new maps.

But Monday, Troupis shot back with a legal brief of his own, contending case law dating back 40 years supports Denney's and Semanko's contention that they can fire their redistricting commissioners — for any reason — and name replacements.

"Your authority to appoint a commissioner clearly carries with it ... authority to fire the commissioner if he or she fails to perform the duties that you delegated to him or her to your satisfaction," Troupis told Denney in his brief.

Troupis has been on the winning side of past disputes with Ysursa.

Last year, the Eagle-based lawyer represented the Idaho Republican Party when it successfully challenged Ysursa over Idaho's open primary in U.S. District Court.

As a result of that lawsuit, Idaho will have its first Republicans-only closed primary May 15.

In addition to Crow and Hansen, the redistricting commission also includes Republican Sheila Olsen, as well as Democrats Ron Beitelspacher, Shauneen Grange and Elmer Martinez.

Democrats say they're sticking by their commissioners, while Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has no plans to replace Olsen, his appointee, saying she worked well the first time.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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