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Idaho Republicans pick Peterson as new state party chairman

Idaho Republicans on Saturday elected a Mountain Home hardware store owner to lead the state's dominant party ahead of November's big ballot fight over education reforms, the Associated Press reports. Barry Peterson was chosen chairman over charter school activist Gayann DeMordaunt from Eagle. Peterson replaces outgoing chairman Norm Semanko. The 64-year-old Peterson was described by backers as an example of rural Idaho's conservative roots; his grandfather settled Elmore County in 1885.

“We will unitedly work to have a more effective and impactful role in the politics of our state,” Peterson told delegates. Click below for AP reporter John Miller's full report.


Mountain Home hardware store owner to lead ID GOP
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press


TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Republicans on Saturday elected a Mountain Home hardware store owner to lead the state's dominant party ahead of November's big ballot fight over education reforms.

Barry Peterson was chosen chairman over charter school activist Gayann DeMordaunt from Eagle. Peterson replaces outgoing chairman Norm Semanko.

The 64-year-old Peterson was described by backers as an example of rural Idaho's conservative roots. His grandfather settled Elmore County in 1885.

Peterson said among his first tasks will be choosing a new executive director to run the Idaho GOP's day-to-day affairs. Like Semanko, current executive director Jonathan Parker is leaving the office for employment elsewhere.

“We will unitedly work to have a more effective and impactful role in the politics of our state,” Peterson told delegates. “I see the most important role in our central committee in the state as that of the executive director. I will immediately seek assistance from you, if you have a recommendation, to get the very best on the board.”

Apart from staffing the office, Peterson's main political task will be raising money and helping organize the state GOP's opposition to attempts to repeal the 2011 Legislature's education reforms on Nov. 6.

Groups including the Idaho Education Association teachers union are pushing the repeal, contending it was foisted upon teachers over their objections and redirects money away from educators and toward replacement technology like student laptops.

The last time a woman chaired Idaho's GOP was in the 1970s, when Marjorie Miner of Silverton headed the party.

DeMordaunt, the vice chairman of the Idaho Public Charter School Commission and the wife of state Rep. Reed DeMordaunt of Eagle, lost the race despite having two of Idaho's biggest Republican names behind her.

Public schools chief Tom Luna and Rep. Raul Labrador gave nomination speeches on her behalf.

But her defeat was yet another example of how Republican delegates aren't shy about disregarding the opinions of their elected leaders in picking a party chairman. In 2008, for instance, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter lost a fight when his hand-picked nominee, Kirk Sullivan, was ousted by Semanko.

Even though his candidate lost, Luna said there aren't the hard feelings there were following Semanko's defeat of Sullivan four years ago at a raucous, contentious GOP convention in Sandpoint.

“Nobody gets anointed,” Luna said, after the vote. “It wasn't an 'us vs. them,' 'establishment vs. outsider race.'”

Both Peterson and DeMordaunt had Otter's blessing to run, if not his endorsement.

For instance, neither supported returning to the open GOP primary, as he does.

On Friday, the Republican governor told The Associated Press that he was leaving the decision up to the Republican Party's grassroots — the delegates at the convention — instead of intervening and naming a personal preference, like he did in 2008.

Speaking in support of Peterson were two state representatives, Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home and Steve Hartgen of Twin Falls.

Nielsen, a local basketball referee in his region, said it was Peterson's advice, years ago, that convinced him to abandon his practice of liberally awarding technical fouls — and instead seek out less confrontational ways of resolving on-the-court disputes.

“He said this: 'Contention breeds contention,'” Nielson told applauding delegates, of Peterson. “This man is very, very good at getting things done, and getting people to help him do it.”


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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