July 14, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho GOP drops plan to vet primary candidates

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - Idaho Republicans have dropped a proposed rule change to let party committees screen candidates for primary elections and select just two for each office, but they’ll consider plenty of other big changes when they gather Friday in Moscow for their annual state central committee meeting, including doing away with their May presidential primary entirely.

Also on tap: An array of resolutions on everything from kicking the EPA out of the Silver Valley, to studying a gold currency to replace the “failing” dollar, and to an “Idaho as China-Beachhead Withdrawal Resolution,” declaring that GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s “Project 60” trade-building initiative is a bid by the Chinese to take over Idaho’s sovereignty, and calling on the Legislature to look into it.

“Just because they’ve been submitted doesn’t mean it necessarily has broad support,” said Idaho GOP Executive Director Jonathan Parker. “Any member of the central committee can submit a resolution, and that’s why we like to consider ourselves a party of ideas.”

Not on the agenda for the two-day meeting: Letting independents vote in the GOP primary for state offices next May.

“I haven’t got word of anyone proposing such a rule,” Parker said. Current party rules ban anyone other than registered Republicans from voting in the Idaho GOP primary; the party successfully got legislation passed this year to allow parties to close Idaho’s previously open primary elections, and to require registration by party for the first time ever.

If the party doesn’t change its rules, independents wouldn’t get to vote in the primary election for the party that controls the vast majority of Idaho’s elected offices.

“Apparently nobody wants to propose that - I certainly don’t,” said party activist and central committee member Rod Beck. “That would sort of defeat two-thirds of the purpose. … If an unaffiliated voter does not want to affiliate with the Republican Party, then they can wait until the general election to make their selection.”

Rule changes can be proposed from the floor at the meeting, but it takes a two-thirds vote of the rules committee to consider any that weren’t in before a deadline 10 days prior to the meeting. “I’ve seen it happen a few times - I’ve never seen it passed, I’ve never seen it adopted,” Parker said. “So the fact that somebody did not submit a rule change to allow independents or other political party members to participate in our primary I think is probably a sign that it won’t be proposed.”

The same hurdle applies to the proposal to let county party central committees vet candidates for the primary ballot. Barry Peterson, chairman of the Elmore County Republicans and the one who proposed the rule change, said he decided to withdraw it because “the plate is so full,” with the meeting already including debate about moving to a presidential caucus rather than a primary, and discussion of redistricting. “The other two matters are really important,” he said.

Beck agreed, though he said he still supports that change. “When you have, for instance, eight candidates or seven or whatever number you have … in a lot of cases they’re not really legitimate candidates,” he said. “For instance, the fella that opened up his campaign for governor in a Boise strip club, and the main emphasis of his campaign was selling panties with ‘Beat Butch’ on the back of them. Well, we had to endure that as a Republican candidate, and I don’t think it’s fair to us as a party.”

That candidate, amateur comedian Pete Petersen, has now launched his own recall campaign against GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, against whom another recall campaign recently failed.

The presidential primary change may be the biggest issue debated at the central committee meeting in Moscow. Currently, Idaho Republicans select their delegates to the national GOP convention through the May primary election, while Idaho Democrats make their presidential picks in earlier caucuses, and the May primary is just a meaningless “beauty contest” on the Democratic side as far as the presidential race.

Parker said the proposal would have Idaho Republicans instead hold caucuses in every county on “Super Tuesday,” the first Tuesday in March. If it passes, he said Republicans will confer with Democrats and look toward just canceling Idaho’s May presidential primary, since it would no longer count on either side.

Parker called the change “quite a big deal,” saying Idaho has 32 delegates to the national GOP convention, more than Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada, because of its heavily GOP election results. “This rule change would … hopefully make Idaho relevant on the presidential scene,” he said, and would be “very similar to what the Idaho Democrats have done.” He noted that in the last presidential campaign, Barack Obama came to Idaho shortly before the state’s Democratic caucus, while GOP candidates mostly skipped the state.

Beck said, “I think it’s a great idea and I’m certain that we will pass it. I will predict right now that we will have a presidential caucus in the state of Idaho for our presidential delegate selection in 2012.”

Here are some of the other resolutions Idaho Republicans will consider at their meeting:

One from the Boundary County GOP would prevent school districts from running tax levy votes for a year after one fails. Another from GOP Vice Chair Todd Hatfield would forbid the state Land Board from “investing in or owning any business that competes in the private sector.”

A resolution from William Roberts of Boise County would push Gov. Butch Otter to back gun rights including allowing firearms on state college campuses. Another from John Blattler, Boise County GOP chairman, would back the now-abandoned proposed rule change to have county party committees screen primary election candidates. Parker said since that proposed rule change was withdrawn, that particular resolution is “irrelevant.”

At the Idaho GOP’s last central committee meeting in February, it had 37 proposed resolutions, 15 of them from a single member, Lucas Baumbach of Boise. Because of that, the rules committee passed a “Lucas Baumbach rule” limiting each member to a maximum of two proposed resolutions; this time, there are just 11.

Decisions from the rules and resolutions committees will go to a vote of the full 220-member central committee on Saturday.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email