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Chaos continues at Idaho GOP, as Dems kick off state convention, promise business, fun

The chaos continues at the Idaho Republican Party, after dueling purported party committee meetings on consecutive days reached wildly different conclusions about who’s in charge. This all arises from the failed Idaho GOP state convention last weekend in Moscow, which adjourned without doing any of its business – electing officers, adopting a party platform or passing resolutions – after days of fighting over attempts to eject various groups of delegates amid an intra-party rift.

On Wednesday, a party executive committee meeting was called “to address the vacancies in the various party offices.” Idaho GOP general counsel Jason Risch reported that party rules don’t allow the executive committee to choose a chairman – that has to go to the full Central Committee – but the panel voted to retain four of its current officers: First Vice Chairman Mike Matthews, 2nd Vice Chairman Todd Hatfield; Treasurer Chris Harriman and Secretary Marla Lawson. Risch wrote in an email after the meeting, “This is a big step forward in unifying the party,” saying the four represent both of its wings, the tea party and establishment sides.

Then, on Thursday night, Barry Peterson, who was party chairman until the convention and maintains he still is, called a meeting of the party’s Rules Committee, with two members representing each region, and after spirited arguments, a majority of that group declared the previous day’s meeting invalid and ruled that Peterson’s still in charge, and all officers and policies will remain as-is for the next two years as declared by convention Chairman Raul Labrador shortly before the convention voted to adjourn last Saturday.

Risch didn’t attend the Thursday meeting, writing in a letter to Peterson, “My attendance alone would serve to undermine my legal opinion and validate your status.” Risch told Peterson, “If it is your desire to once again become the chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, there is absolutely nothing to stop you from running for that position at the upcoming state Central Committee meeting.”

At the rules committee meeting – which Risch said wasn’t a valid meeting of the rules committee nor valid members – the North Idaho regional representatives were tax-protesting former state Rep. Phil Hart and unsuccessful legislative candidate Danielle Ahrens. Hart wrote on Facebook, “There are some in the Republican Party who want to negate all the work of the Convention and throw out any of the work that was done and have all business ultimately handled by the State Central Committee. Others want to accept what business was completed by the Convention and get on with the work of the Party. The latter group believes that Congressman Labrador correctly advised the delegates of the Convention that any unfinished business would be just that, unfinished business; and that if there were not new party officers elected by the 2014 Convention, then the officers elected in 2012 would serve another 2 years until the 2016 Convention.” That side prevailed, he wrote. “I was honored to serve.”

Meanwhile, former state party Chairman Trent Clark wrote on Facebook, “Tonight I watched as a dozen political activists threw all principle and integrity away in a desperate effort to retain their grasp on power. So-called defenders of ‘limited government’ just voted to empower their political bosses with tyrannical authority. … It saddening to see how quickly principle is tossed aside when the power-hungry think their opportunity to exercise dominion over others might be slipping away.”

With the GOP in disarray, the Idaho Democratic Party is holding its own state party convention in Moscow this weekend. The schedule includes platform hearings, panel discussions and a street party today; and on Saturday candidate speeches, a grassroots organizing training session, a Central Committee meeting, and a 7 p.m. “Victory Feast” featuring former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, among other events. Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck said in a statement, “Idaho Democrats have our priorities straight because we listen to the families and business leaders in our communities. … Whatever happens at our convention, I am confident that we will leave town after successfully conducting the business that we have come to conduct. And, we will have a great time while we are doing it!”


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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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