TWIN FALLS, Idaho – 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, of 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 in 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. Butch Otter lost a fight when his hand-picked nominee, Kirk Sullivan, was ousted by Semanko.
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.