New Idaho GOP chairman seeks to heal party

BOISE – New Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates says his party has work to do to recover from its big split midway through an election campaign.

After the party’s state convention in June failed to elect leaders amid a bitter intraparty divide, former Chairman Barry Peterson sued, claiming he still was chairman. A judge said no, prompting the Aug. 2 election of Yates.

Yates is a former aide to then-Vice President Dick Cheney who moved to Idaho Falls in 2011.

“I have a reasonable amount of experience dealing with things that can be hashed out in the situation room in the West Wing, or in territorial disputes abroad,” Yates said. “I have to believe that whatever our disagreements may be within the party, less is at stake … and that we ought to be able to work out our differences.”

Idaho’s Republican Party dominates elective offices in the state, holding every statewide office, all four seats in the congressional delegation and more than 80 percent of the state Legislature. But the party’s disarray has created an opening for minority Democrats and third-party candidates, who are campaigning hard this year in races, including the one for governor.

“We have some of the challenges that a big majority naturally presents,” Yates said. “But I don’t think any of our candidates takes it as a foregone conclusion that they have it in a walk, going through the November election.”

At the party convention, there were clashes between traditional Idaho Republicans loyal to two-term Gov. Butch Otter and tea party supporters, and others who backed Otter’s GOP primary challenger, Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian.

Yates is a conservative who wasn’t seen as closely allied with either camp, though he ran a hard-fought challenge to mainstream GOP Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, in the primary, losing narrowly.

1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, who chaired the failed convention, said he’s spoken with Yates only a few times.

“I’m very impressed with him,” Labrador said. “Maybe he’s exactly what we needed – somebody who wasn’t really part of either camp, so he can try to unify. I know that’s been his message, and I’m wholly supportive of him.”

Yates’ background is an unusual one for an Idaho politician. He lived in Washington, D.C., until three years ago. There, he worked for the Department of Defense, was a senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation and served four years as a deputy assistant to the vice president for national security affairs before opening his own consulting business in 2005.

Yates has continued to operate the firm from Idaho Falls; he also serves as a commentator on international affairs on Fox News and other conservative news outlets. He said he moved to Idaho for a better place to raise his family.

Yates, 45, holds a master’s degree in China studies from Johns Hopkins University and is fluent in Chinese.

For the state party, he said, “First priority is to build up a capacity and execute a plan that supports all our nominees through the November cycle with the things the party usually does – absentee ballots, get-out-the-vote efforts, field offices and things they can do to help all the candidates.” Later, the party can look at issues with its rules that fed the split, he said, and amend those before the next big election in 2016.

“In the closing months of the election cycle, people need to be focused on the work,” Yates said. Later, he said, “perhaps they’ll have … time to decide how much they like the person standing next to them.”

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