BOISE – Top Republicans will flock to southeastern Idaho this week for the state’s GOP convention, where delegates will shape the party’s priorities by tackling hot button issues spreading from immigration to Medicaid expansion.
The party typically uses the three-day meeting to elect state leaders and approve new platforms and rules. Party Chairman Jonathan Parker is up for re-election, but so far, he faces little competition.
Here’s a quick look at what to expect at the convention, which begins Thursday in Pocatello.
Medicaid expansion pushback
As an initiative to expand Medicaid eligibility in Idaho inches closer to the November ballot, Republican delegates headed to the convention are pushing for the party to oppose the effort. Of the 16 resolution delegates will consider, three either ask the party to oppose expanding Medicaid, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, or offer varying alternatives instead.
For example, a resolution backed by outgoing state Rep. Eric Redman of Athol asks the GOP-dominant Legislature to find a state solution to address the estimated 62,000 Idahoans who don’t qualify for a health care subsidy or Medicaid expansion. A separate proposal asking simply for the party’s opposition was submitted by Janice McGeachin, Idaho’s’ Republican lieutenant governor nominee.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little – the Republican gubernatorial nominee – has promised that he would not overturn the initiative if it passes in the November election. Little said he would respect the will of the voters.
Similarly, the first resolution that delegates will consider adopting would highlight the Idaho Republican party’s commitment to respecting the voice and will of the voters.
Other top issues
Delegates will be asked to consider a proposal supportive of making city elections partisan. They are currently non-partisan races.
“City council offices are legislative in nature, in that they pass policies that are influenced by political ideology,” the resolution reads, adding that Democrats have “bragged” about being able to win local elections in Idaho because they aren’t hindered by announcing a party affiliation.
A separate resolution asks the GOP central committee to replace the party’s logo because it includes a blue elephant “which has been often taken to mean a Democrat wearing Republican clothes, being a seriously bad look for the dominant party.”
While resolutions are non-binding and don’t care any weight, they offer insight into the pulse of political parties and provide clues into the top upcoming legislative battles that could be winding their way into the Statehouse.
Separately, delegates will also be asked if they want to tweak the party’s platform, which is a tad more formal outline of goals and principles. One proposed change would encourage penalizing agricultural employers who knowingly hire employees living in the country illegally.
NRA head tapped as top speaker
The headliner of this year’s Idaho GOP convention will be retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, incoming president of the National Rifle Association. North, 74, is the biggest celebrity to lead the 5-million-member gun lobby since Hollywood leading man Charlton Heston, who famously declared in 2000 that his guns would have to be taken “from my cold, dead hands.”
North was also a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, involving the sale of weapons to Iran with proceeds being funneled to right-wing rebel groups in Nicaragua, during the Reagan administration.
Map drawing prep
Tucked inside the busy convention schedule is a two-hour meeting devoted to discussing how the state should draw its congressional and legislative district maps. It’s a contentious issue that has popped up inside the Statehouse from advocates encouraging the state to change up its current structure of an independent commission. Idaho won’t redraw its maps until after the 2020 census, but GOP leaders are prepping early to discuss potential changes.
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