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Eye on Boise: Idaho GOP hopes for very different state convention this time

Betsy Russell (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Russell (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Steve Yates struck an optimistic tone as he announced the state party convention, which is set for June 2-4 at the Idaho Center in Nampa.

“This convention will serve to unite and launch the party into the 2016 general election from a position of strength,” Yates said. “A lot of hard work has gone into ensuring that this convention runs smoothly, and I’m excited to be working with Republicans from across the state as we unite our party.”

That would be a big change from the state party’s last convention in 2014 in Moscow, which was an unmitigated disaster – it ended in disarray without electing a chairman, setting a platform or doing any of its scheduled business, amid intra-party squabbles. That year’s convention chairman, GOP Congressman Raul Labrador, closed the tumultuous gathering facing jeers and walkouts from his own party members.

Yates said at this year’s convention, “delegates from across the state will work together to ratify the party platform, elect party officials, and select delegates to the Republican National Convention.” The weekend also will include policy workshops, luncheons and receptions with local, state and national Republican leaders, and a “campaign school” to help prepare Republican candidates for the November election.

Ybarra hires adviser

Idaho state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra has hired a new policy liaison to replace former state Sen. Tim Corder, who left her office abruptly over the winter: Duncan Robb, who is currently engagement manager for the Education Delivery Institute, known as EDI, in Washington, D.C. Robb, who will start July 1 at an annual salary of $100,000, will “focus on supporting the superintendent in policy matters as well as being a department representative working collaboratively with Idaho legislators,” Ybarra announced in a news release.

At EDI, Robb has worked with the Council of Chief State School Officers to provide support to state education leaders and their agencies, and worked on numerous projects involving data and education priorities for university systems around the country. A former sixth-grade math teacher in Texas as a “Teach for America” corps member, Robb has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oregon and a master’s degree in public policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.

Not picking Nielsen

The Idaho Associated General Contractors has endorsed challenger Megan Blanksma over controversial Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, in a GOP House primary race in District 23; it’s the first challenger the contractors’ group has endorsed over an incumbent this year.

Nielsen, a seven-term representative, apologized this year after repeatedly making statements in legislative hearings and media interviews that he believed rape and incest are unlikely to result in pregnancy; and also was arrested this year for poaching an elk. Neither of those were among the reasons for the endorsement. Wayne Hammon, Idaho AGC executive director, said Blanksma’s positions better match the group’s on its issues.

Hammon said he researched the voting records of lawmakers this year to prepare for the group’s endorsement process, and Nielsen, 77, was the only lawmaker to score a zero on the group’s scorecard for his seven terms in office.

“Over the course of his career, he never once voted for an AGC-supported bill,” Hammon said. The bills included road funding and measures dealing with contractors.

The contractors group has so far made 24 endorsements in primary races, and still is working on more. Twenty-three of the endorsements went to Republicans in contested primary races, including Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; and Reps. Eric Redman, R-Athol, and Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. One went to a Democrat in a contested primary race, Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise.

Blanksma is a farmer from Hammett and the current Elmore County GOP chair. Nielsen also faces another GOP challenger, Justin Freeman of Marsing.

Constitution Party debate

There’s a rare event coming up in the May 17 Idaho primary – a contested race within the Constitution Party of Idaho, with two hopefuls running for the U.S. Senate seat held by GOP Sen. Mike Crapo. State party Chairman Floyd Whitley of Cottonwood said the party has scheduled a debate between the two candidates, Ray Writz, of Coeur d’Alene, and “Pro-Life,” formerly known as Marvin Richardson, of Letha, on May 7 in Lewiston; the public is invited.

The Constitution Party of Idaho had just 256 registered voters in Idaho in 2012, but now has 2,295, Whitley said.

The debate will take place in the Clearwater Room of the Williams Conference Center at Lewis-Clark State College, 500 Eighth Ave. in Lewiston, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 7. Whitley will serve as moderator and pose questions to the two candidates.

In Idaho’s March 8 presidential primary election, three Constitution Party rivals appeared on the ballot; Scott Copeland won with 250 votes or 51.5 percent. A total of 485 ballots were cast in the Constitution Party presidential matchup in Idaho.

Whitley said the party chose Lewiston for the debate because both candidates will have to travel roughly equal distances from their homes, and because Lewiston “has had relatively strong voter registration growth for us.” The party now has 55 registered members in Nez Perce County, he said. “That may not be considered significant to others, but it is for us.”