BOISE – An Idaho Republican Party advisory committee turned combative Thursday while members discussed who held the chairmanship.
The growing divisions inside the Idaho Grand Old Party have spent the past week fiercely debating who holds the seat ever since its convention ended last week without the election of a new chair. It was the first time a state convention failed to accomplish anything in nearly 60 years.
After two hours of yelling and talking over one another Thursday, the committee concluded that chairman Barry Peterson’s term would be extended for another two years. In a majority voice vote, members said Republicans had voted to retain all party officers and to keep the platform unchanged for another two-year term when they voted to adjourn the convention.
“It was a vote that included everybody,” said committee member Bryan Smith, a tea party favorite who unsuccessfully ran for Idaho’s congressional District 2 in the May primary election. “Those people will be disenfranchised if the state committee makes this final decision.”
Opposing committee member and former GOP chairman Trent Clark accused the panel of willfully ignoring facts, and Grant Loebs said the committee’s decision would spur the party down a slippery slope.
“We accomplished nothing,” Loebs said. “This body is not the Supreme Court. They do not have the final say.”
Their disapproval, however, was no match against the rest of the committee. Immediately after voting to keep Peterson, Smith moved to disregard the actions an executive committee made in an impromptu meeting Wednesday that declared the party had no current chair and elected interim party officers.
With the support from fellow past primary candidate losers, including members Phil Hart and Danielle Ahens, Smith’s motion passed with only minor opposition.
The battle between tea party forces and establishment Republicans has been building for years in Idaho, but it was in this past week that the divide became more visible as multiple attempts for unity failed. Instead, far-right conservatives say they are simply enforcing party rules that the establishment camp has chosen to ignore.
Traditional Republicans counter that the tea party’s tactics are weakening the party.
“I understand politics,” Clark said. “I just beg and plead, don’t throw under the bus the rules of the discourse. If we do that, think about it, we are embracing the very brute politics we condemn the Democrats of using. We don’t want to use their tools.”
For now, Peterson’s future as Idaho’s state party chairman is uncertain.
Two opinions from the GOP general counsel and the Republican National Committee argue that Peterson is no longer the chairman. They say the state central committee needs to appoint new party officers.
GOP general counsel Jason Risch refused to attend Thursday’s meeting because it would have validated Peterson as the current party chairman.
“I have reviewed the Idaho Republican Party State Rules and Idaho State Code and cannot find any authority supporting an automatic extension,” wrote Risch, a Boise attorney.
Peterson, meanwhile, says he will continue serving as chairman.
“In my wildest of dreams, I never anticipated this kind of event,” he said. “But if people are willing to speak up, that’s healthy. That’s democracy. All I want to be is a servant for the party.”