BOISE – Embattled Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson says the Idaho Republican Party is faced with “two rogue members engaged in a hostile takeover,” who want to “usurp” his authority as party chairman.
Attorneys for the two party officers he’s sued say Peterson, elected to a two-year term as state party chairman in 2012, is no longer chairman, and contend the fight over control of the party doesn’t belong in court at all. “This court should not interfere in a political party’s internal decision,” they wrote in court documents. “The Republican Party, whether on the state or national level, is perfectly capable and prepared to handle the issue, and in fact already has.”
The party has set a state Central Committee meeting for Aug. 2 to elect new leaders; Peterson has called a competing meeting for Aug. 9, and sued to try to stop party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway from convening the Aug. 2 meeting. The Republican National Committee’s legal counsel has advised the state party that the RNC considers the Aug. 2 meeting the proper one.
The two sides will face off in court Tuesday in Twin Falls. In advance of that hearing, their arguments are detailed in hundreds of pages of legal documents filed with the court.
Christ Troupis, attorney for Peterson and six of his supporters, wrote that the “image of the Idaho Republican Party is at stake.”
“How the Idaho Republican Party is perceived by the public as governing itself is vitally important to the public’s faith in government itself,” Troupis wrote.
Timothy Hopkins, attorney for Mathews and Siddoway, wrote, “The plaintiffs have no basis for their contentions that Barry Peterson should continue as chairman of the Idaho Republican Party. Their complaint should be dismissed.”
Peterson contends that when the tumultuous state party convention in Moscow in June ended without any elections for party leaders, that meant the previous leaders stayed on for another two years. Convention Chairman Raul Labrador said as much before the adjournment, after conferring with parliamentarian Cornel Rasor.
But Rasor later told the Lewiston Tribune he “inadvertently misread the rules.”
“It was my fault, not Raul’s,” Rasor told Tribune reporter Bill Spence in a June 25 article that’s among the documents filed with the court. “It’s really that simple.”
State party rules specifically say there “shall be no automatic succession to the office of state chairman.”
Troupis contends it doesn’t matter – the 527 delegates at the convention thought that was the result of adjourning. Any other interpretation, he wrote, “threaten(s) to nullify the votes of 527 convention delegates.”
Hopkins points out that there wasn’t actually even a vote to adjourn. Instead, a delegate moved to adjourn as the scheduled 3 p.m. end of the convention approached; Labrador ruled the motion out of order. Later he called for adjournment, and a motion was made to suspend the rules to allow the convention to continue past its scheduled ending point. A voice vote was taken and Labrador declared that the motion had failed, and therefore the convention was adjourned.
As part of their legal filings, Mathews and Siddoway submitted a YouTube link to video of those final moments of the convention, along with a transcript.
“No vote for chairman was held. No vote for any officer was held,” Hopkins wrote. “The entirety of plaintiff’s claim for relief is based on a significant mistake and misreading of the rules at the end of the convention.”
He wrote, “No constitution or statute permits a group of individuals to conjure a right to use mistaken information in order to lay claim to party leadership positions.”
Peterson, in an affidavit filed with the court, said, “I believe the convention delegates voted to adjourn the convention with the understanding that the effect of that vote would be to retain the current state officers until the next convention.”
Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker is scheduled to hear arguments in the case starting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Twin Falls.