TWIN FALLS, Idaho – A judge rejected a bid Tuesday from embattled former Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson to hold onto his leadership position within the state’s dominant political party.
“His term has expired,” Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker told a full courtroom after nearly three hours of arguments in a Twin Falls courtroom.
Two warring wings of Idaho’s Republican Party fought for control after Peterson sued two state GOP officials and asked the court to rule that he was still the state party chairman.
“This is not a question of this court taking any position with regard to what the Republican Party should do in this state,” Stoker said. “I have no dog in this fight, so to speak.”
Peterson sued the party officials after they called an Aug. 2 central committee meeting to choose new leaders. The state chairman normally is elected at the state party convention, but the party’s tumultuous and sharply divided convention in Moscow last month ended in disarray without any votes on leaders, resolutions or a party platform.
Peterson argued that by adjourning without voting on leaders, the convention delegates were choosing to keep him on for another two years.
Convention Chairman Raul Labrador said as much before the adjournment, after conferring with parliamentarian Cornel Rasor. But Rasor later said publicly that he erred, and “inadvertently misread the rules.”
“That was the error the chairman made, that was the error the parliamentarian made,” the judge said. “And frankly that was the reason why Mr. Peterson and the rest of the officers just weren’t elected.”
Under Robert’s Rules of Order, Stoker said, the chair’s reply to an inquiry is not binding – it is merely an opinion. “It was not part of the motion – it was not voted upon by the delegates,” the judge said. “It couldn’t have constituted an election of officers because that was required by secret ballot of the delegates in the convention.”
“Maybe they thought they were voting to continue the officers,” Stoker said. “Maybe they were voting to take an early break because they’d had enough. … Who knows? … There is no possible way I can make that decision. It’s pure speculation.”
Under parliamentary rules, business left undone at the time of adjournment “falls to the ground,” the judge said. “It’s a dead issue.”
Peterson said he accepts the judge’s ruling, and won’t run when the party picks its new chairman on Aug. 2. At least three candidates are now vying for the post, all from southern Idaho.
Christ Troupis, attorney for Peterson and six of his supporters, argued that a party rules committee meeting Peterson called after the convention upheld his interpretation that the convention’s adjournment extended his term as chairman.
But Timothy Hopkins, attorney for the two GOP officials Peterson sued, said Peterson “stacked” that committee with new members in violation of state party rules. “It was politics at its worst,” Hopkins said.
Stoker said whether or not the rules committee was properly constituted, anything it decides is merely a recommendation to the party.
For now, under the judge’s ruling, the Idaho Republican Party has no top officers.
“You are a party without direction, it’s pretty clear,” the judge said.