BOISE - Amid the recriminations and finger-pointing after the weekend’s Idaho GOP state convention debacle, Gov. Butch Otter said Tuesday that he was offered a deal to allow disputed delegates to participate if he endorsed primary challenger Russ Fulcher as the new party chairman, but he refused it.
Otter told The Spokesman-Review he was contacted in his hotel room in Moscow after midnight last Thursday night about a deal. “The agreement that they’d cooked up was if I would agree to endorse Russ Fulcher for chairman, then they would seat the delegates,” Otter said. “I said, ‘Well, wait a minute – you’re making me a majority of one on credentials? They’re either delegates or they’re not delegates.’”
Fulcher ran unsuccessfully against Otter in Idaho’s May 20 GOP primary election. But Otter said before the convention that he’d be comfortable with Fulcher as the new chairman – or an array of other candidates – if that was the choice of the convention’s delegates.
A dissident group led by conservative GOP activist Rod Beck challenged the credentials of the entire Ada County delegation – the state’s largest at more than 100 people – amid disputes over the selection process, which Beck said excluded prospective candidates including himself. Among those signing onto Beck’s challenge were Fulcher and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle.
Between that and other challenges to delegates’ credentials, the convention never got around to voting on a new chairman – or any of its other business, from the party platform to resolutions. The only votes taken were to toss out various delegates, before participants, weary of repeated disputes and parliamentary procedure challenges, finally voted in disgust to simply adjourn.
Now, it’s unclear whether the party has a chairman or not. Previous Chairman Barry Peterson says he’s still chairman – though a legal opinion offered to the Idaho GOP by attorney Jason Risch, son of U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, found that the chairman’s term automatically ends as of the convention, and the party’s officer positions are now vacant.
Peterson told The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday that he’s requested another legal opinion from attorney Christ Troupis.
“I’m adopting the position that was tendered at the convention when the motion for adjournment was made,” Peterson said. The convention chairman, 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, conferred with parliamentarians and announced that the result of voting for adjournment would be that officers, platform planks and resolutions would stay as-is for the next two years. “Overwhelmingly, the vote was carried,” Peterson said.
He said Troupis’ legal opinion, like Risch’s, will be done for the party without charge. “It’s my personal opinion that the position taken by the party when they cast their vote should be the position of the party,” Peterson said. “Everybody got to vote on it there at the convention. We’ll see what happens.”
Peterson said he’s called a meeting of the central committee’s rules committee for this Thursday at 7 p.m. in Boise, to review the two legal opinions and discuss what to do next. “They’ll be working on the problem, trying to find a resolve that seems appropriate and in harmony with the rules,” he said.
The party also has received a formal petition calling for an emergency meeting of the central committee, which Risch’s legal analysis noted is the body charged with filling vacancies in officer positions. “The process for that is … I get 10 days to schedule the meeting, and have to schedule the meeting within 30 days of that 10 days – our rules allow for that,” Peterson said.
He said one touchy question is where he calls for the meeting to take place. “No matter where I call that meeting, I’m going to get spears in both sides of me,” he said, because members have to participate in person, and the location could benefit those on one side or the other if it’s easier for them to get there. “I just, I want to do the right thing for the right reason,” Peterson said. “And I don’t know what will happen.”
Peterson said he thought the convention’s spectacular breakdown on Saturday was planned in advance. “By design, they intended from the very beginning by parliamentary procedure to get the whole convention to go for four hours without taking a vote, and they were successful in that,” Peterson said. He said he couldn’t say who “they” were. “I do not know who put the plan together,” he said. “But I have no doubt that that’s what happened.”
Otter said after the late-night phone call to his hotel room in Moscow, “I made about five phone calls back.” Otter said he spoke with Moyle, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, House Speaker Scott Bedke and GOP chairman hopeful Doug Sayer. He said he concluded, “I couldn’t tell those delegates who to vote for, and I couldn’t bargain away that democratic process that we were trying to provide for with the selection of delegates.”
Otter added, “There were all kinds of things going around, but the only deal they asked me about was the one I just described. … I responded back to everybody that called me, and said I had a real problem with being a majority of one on the credentials committee.” If the delegate selection was improper as some charged, he said, “How can you make it legitimate just by making a deal?”
Otter said, “I think we ought to follow the rules. My understanding is the rules say the chairman of the party is elected for a two-year period from one convention to the next. That’s a term limit.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna added, “Yeah, we don’t have a chairman right now.” Said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, “Right now, it’s in the central committee.”
When Ysursa noted that central committee in normal times wouldn’t meet again until January, Otter said, “Well, this is abnormal times.”