In Idaho, divisions between rural and urban activists and grassroots and establishment forces came to a head at last weekend’s state-wide Republican Party convention. The three-day convention, which concluded on Saturday, convened in Moscow, with delegates from across the state meeting in an effort to elect party officers and choose platform positions. However, a rising tide of conservative, tea party, and libertarian-leaning activists gained a substantial number of delegate positions at the convention, which caught officials representing the political establishment by surprise. Ultimately, a floor fight ensued, leading Congressman Raul Labrador, the convention chair, to adjourn the meeting before the selection of officers or approval of new platform items.
At past conventions, county delegates were often approved informally, without carefully following party rules, thus leading to a de facto buddy system selection process which some locals found corrupting. The party has historically been more responsive to populous counties like Ada at the expense of rural counties. With an influx of new delegates gaining the right to vote at the convention, there was a movement among participants to follow convention and party rules explicitly.
Also, a faction fight going on behind the scenes pitted establishment forces loyal to Idaho Governor Butch Otter, who sought to replace current Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson, against tea party and conservative groups. The fireworks started the week before the convention, when Peterson informed Ada County Republican Party Chairman Fred Tilman that Ada County delegates’ committee assignments were submitted after the deadline set under party rules. Consequently, only four out of the thirty-four usual Ada County committee positions were filled.
Former Boise-area State Senator Rod Beck challenged the seating of Ada County’s delegates before the Credentials Committee, alleging that a secret ballot was used to choose delegates in violation of party bylaws. Chaos broke out at the convention after the Credentials Committee issued a report recommending that approximately 20% of the convention’s delegates be stripped of their voting privileges due to concerns over how the delegates were chosen. Conservative delegates wanting to follow party rules more closely voted to cast out delegates from the counties of Power and Bannock over alleged inconsistencies in the delegate selection process. Establishment officials attempted to run out the clock on the delegate removals by raising challenges, and, in the end, Congressman Raul Labrador, who is in the running for Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives, was left with no choice, under the orders of the day, but to adjourn the meeting at 3 PM while attendees were still voting on whether or not to remove Ada County’s delegates from the convention.
Jason Robinson, State Secretary of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Idaho, told BenSwann.com, “This convention demonstrated that the grassroots in the Idaho Republican Party are fed up with corruption, and they wanted to send a message to every county to follow the rules when electing delegates.” Since the convention was adjourned prior to the selection of new officers, there is some confusion as to whether or not the current officers will remain in their positions for the next two years or whether there will be a legal challenge resulting in a special election.