Nobody agrees about what happened, why it happened, or what’s going to happen next. But both sides agree on one thing: It was the other side’s fault.
Following last weekend’s Republican convention in Moscow, which ended without the election of a new state GOP chairman or adoption of a party platform, both the moderate and conservative camps of the party are blaming one another for gridlock.
Conservatives such as Bonneville County Central Committee Chairman Doyle Beck claim Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter attempted to stack the deck at the convention with supporters of a moderate agenda. Some even go so far as to say they won’t support Otter in November.
Establishment Republicans such as Bingham County Chairman Dan Cravens say GOP Chairman Barry Peterson filled key committees with ultraconservative supporters in an attempt to predetermine the election for party offices.
Congressman Raúl Labrador headed up the failed convention. He told the AP the party had “hit bottom.”
Who stacked it?
Whether to seat Ada County’s 34 delegates became a central point of division between conservatives and moderates, as did the question of whether to seat delegates from Bannock and Power counties.
The tea party bloc of the Idaho GOP challenged whether party rules had been followed when Ada County approved a slate of delegates in a single vote. They charge that the “secret list” of candidates was full of Otter supporters, and that candidates hostile to Otter’s agenda — including his primary opponent Russ Fulcher — were excluded from the running.
They likewise charged that Bannock County had pre-selected a slate of delegates, disallowing more conservative delegates from participating.
“We felt like they violated the rules,” Beck said. “It’s a sham, stacking. That’s not what we want at a convention.”
Incoming Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg agreed, saying the Ada GOP was “trying to get the governor’s approved list to be their delegates.”
“They violated rules,” he said.
At the convention, the party’s credentials committee was charged with making recommendations on whether to seat or reject members from those counties. Moderates charged that Peterson, who has a reputation for siding with the far right of the GOP, had stacked the credentials committee with ultraconservatives in an effort to rig the election for the chairman’s seat.
Tony Madsen is the chairman of the Bannock County GOP. The credentials committee recommended not to seat Bannock’s delegates.
“When I got there, I found out that not only was Bannock County being challenged, Ada County was being challenged and Twin Falls County was being challenged,” Madsen said. “It happens that those three counties amount to just under 20 percent of the vote.”
Madsen found it odd that those three counties would have been singled out, since their delegates tend to support moderates.
Cravens said the selection of committee members was suspicious.
“All the committees … seemed to be intentionally packed toward people who are philosophically aligned with (Peterson). … It gave the appearance that those counties may have been singled out to produce a single result in the chairman’s race,” he said.
Is there a chairman?
And another potential fight waits just over the horizon: Whether the party will hold a special meeting to elect a chairman or whether Peterson will retain his seat until the next GOP convention in 2016.
Several delegates to the convention disagreed Monday over the issue.
Bryan Smith, who launched an unsuccessful primary challenge to Congressman Mike Simpson and was recently elected chairman of the GOP’s Region 7, claims Peterson was effectively elected to another term. As Region 7 chairman, Smith serves on the both the state GOP’s central and executive committees.
Smith said Labrador announced on the floor that adjourning would mean re-electing all incumbent officers for two years.
“(Delegates) voted to adjourn knowing that that was the consequence,” he said. “So for me that was voted on by the people at the convention.”
But Cravens said several county chairman are currently drafting a request for a special state central committee meeting to elect a new chairman.
“The state central committee will need to meet and elect a new state chairman,” Cravens said.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis served as one of two parliamentarians at the convention, overseeing the rules for the event. He doesn’t think Peterson has been re-elected.
“The party rules say that he serves for a term of two years,” he said. “The rules do speak in terms of a time certain that they serve.”
“There are a lot of folks who are trying to sort through that right now,” Davis added.
Following the infighting that erupted at the convention, the two camps appear to be further apart than ever, with some in the ultraconservative camp saying they may not support Otter in the November election.
Beck said he won’t support Otter. That sentiment, he said, is “widely shared” among the conservative wing.
“He has not shown us any leadership,” Beck said.
“He has since joined the party of corporate cronyism,” he added.
Smith said he thinks the conservative wing is winning out.
“Even though (the rift) is more pronounced in terms of its effect … I think there are more and more people beginning to see that these issues do matter, and that the party has grown more conservative,” he said.
On the other side, Cravens went so far as to accuse many in the ultraconservative wing of being “Republicans In Name Only,” or RINOs, reversing the charge often leveled by the tea party against moderates.
“It seems like a lot of the ranks of the folks that were there at the convention seemed to be RINOs,” he said. “Not RINOs in the sense of being Democrats, but RINOs in the sense of being affiliated with the Constitution Party or the Libertarian Party.”