Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

State GOP convention kicks off

Idaho's state GOP convention kicked off today in Idaho Falls, with resolutions awaiting votes on everything from defining a fetus as a "person" to legalizing marijuana; the party also is set to debate a loyalty oath requirement, requiring its candidates sign an oath of loyalty to the state party platform or disclose those areas where they disagree; an Arizona-style immigration law; and a proposal to forbid Republican Party members from working for candidates of another party. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

After rowdy 2008 confab, GOP meets in Idaho Falls
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — This weekend's Idaho State Republican Convention in Idaho Falls is the first since the 2008 edition in Sandpoint in northern Idaho, when delegates revolted to oust then-Chairman Kirk Sullivan and replace him with lawyer and lobbyist Norm Semanko.

In doing so, they defied GOP standard-bearers like Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, who was in Sullivan's camp.

That 2008 affair at the Bonner County Fairgrounds was raucous, with Ron Paul supporters who were key in unseating Sullivan making no bones about their support of limiting the federal government under the U.S. Constitution and abolishing the Federal Reserve bank. Factions were at odds over everything from tackling marijuana legalization to whether to close Idaho's GOP primary to all but registered party voters.

How will 2010 be different?

At the event in Idaho Falls that runs through Saturday, one of the key things as many as 500 delegates will be judging is whether Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter gives a heartfelt endorsement to Republican U.S. House candidate Raul Labrador, who beat GOP rival Vaughn Ward in their May primary.

Labrador, running against Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick in November, and Otter have clashed in the past: There was the 2008 Sandpoint convention dustup, when Labrador helped oust Sullivan; in the 2009 Legislature, Labrador also lambasted the governor's plan to raise Idaho's gas tax and vehicle registration fees to fund road work, calling it a gift to special interest groups.

Otter's wife backed Ward; business interests like the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry that are paying for Otter's gubernatorial campaign are simultaneously throwing their weight behind Minnick.

But Labrador says he and Otter have buried the hatchet.

"We both understand, we need to help each other win," Labrador said Thursday. "I think you'll find out that the governor is 100 percent behind me."

Jonathan Parker, executive director of the state Republican Party, expects the Idaho Falls event to become a "unity rally" for GOP candidates, not some showcase for differences that still linger.

Those emerged most recently in May's primary when four sitting Idaho Republican state senators were unseated by candidates who curried support from Idaho's burgeoning tea party movement.

Between soirees including a dinner at health care multimillionaire Frank VanderSloot's house on Friday evening and a Young Republicans Social along the Snake River where it winds through downtown Idaho Falls, convention delegates will listen to rallying speeches by Otter, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson.

Delegates will also take care of regular convention business, including electing officers.

Semanko is running for re-election; unlike in Sandpoint in 2008, no ruckus has preceded this year's vote, and Semanko says he's heard of no rivals waiting in the wings.

Still, there are several openings in executive leadership, with GOP treasurer Keith Johnson and secretary Kitty Kunz likely not running again. Semanko expects the infusion of new delegates, hailing from multiple GOP stripes across the state, will add excitement to the races.

"I'm one that likes to be inclusive," he said. "We welcome the debate. We welcome the discussion."

The event kicked off Thursday with GOP state leadership campaign school; more than 100 candidates registered for the workshop aimed at helping them win their races in November. On Friday, there are regional and committee meetings set, including sessions to consider new GOP rules as well as changes to the state GOP platform.

One proposal would make GOP candidates sign an oath of loyalty to the state GOP platform — or disclose those areas where they disagree.

There could also be a push to add provisions to Idaho's state GOP platform in support of Arizona-style immigration reforms to require police to check the immigration status of anyone they think is in the country illegally.

If that happens, it would give the issue more momentum come the 2011 Idaho Legislature come January.

"I'm sure those issues will be talked about there," said state Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, who will be in Idaho Falls for the event. "Before we try to ram this through, we'll see what the real Republicans have to say."

Another proposal would move Idaho's Republican primary election to August from May, giving challengers more time to prepare for races against incumbents.

And a separate plan likely to be considered would forbid Republican Party members from working for candidates of another party. That's a direct shot at Boise City Councilman Vern Bisterfeldt, who is running for Ada County commissioner on the GOP ticket but is campaign treasurer for Democratic state senate candidate Branden Durst.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

Follow Betsy online: