Two challenge Peterson’s GOP leadership

Two Blackfoot Republicans are launching challenges to Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson, who has headed up the party for two years.

Doug Sayer, the founder of Premier Technology Inc. and a former state committeeman for Bannock County, is positioning himself as an effective manager who would run the party smoothly without venturing into political positions.

Mike Duff, Legislative District 31 chairman and former campaign manager for Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth,

is attacking Peterson for dividing and ineffectively managing the party, saying he would work to unite its two factions.

“Administratively, we’re in shambles,” Duff said. “Financially, we’re not strong. And he’s failed to organize the grassroots to effectively strengthen our candidates for the upcoming elections.”

Duff said he will encourage the business-oriented establishment of the party to “bury the hatchet” with its more conservative wing in order to “beat back the socialist elements in the Democratic Party.”

Former Idaho Falls Rep. Erik Simpson was rumored to be a contender for the chairmanship, but said he’s not seeking it. He said that could change, however, if another candidate dropped out.

Peterson denied he has split the party, saying party members simply have different views and that it’s his job to convey the will of the majority.

“I see myself as a servant of those who work within the party,” he said. “And if we find that the party splits (on an issue), then it is not an unnatural consequence that people in the party are going to have a difference of opinion.”

Sayer said depictions of a party divided are media hype.

“I’m concerned that the press is portraying us in a negative light, and I don’t think that that’s entirely true,” he said. “I think we’re all Republicans, and we’re all conservatives.”

Some moderates are introducing resolutions in an attempt to bring more independents into the fold at the GOP’s state convention, which begins Thursday and runs through Sunday in Moscow.

Dan Cravens, chairman of the Bingham County Republican Central Committee, is sponsoring two resolutions aimed to pull the GOP toward the center and “heal the wounds” of a contentious Republican primary.

“We’ve got this huge block of voters who are self-identified independents. … The vast majority of those independent voters are conservative-leaning,” Cravens said. “What we’re doing with the closed primary is we’re alienating them. And that’s not a healthy thing for our party to do.”

One of Cravens’ resolutions would revoke the portion of the party’s platform that calls for repeal of the 17th Amendment, which allows citizens to directly elect U.S. senators. Prior to the amendment in 1913, that power was held by state legislatures.

“It makes our party seem like we are disenfranchising voters,” Cravens said. “People in Idaho and nationwide appreciate the ability to elect their senators directly.”

The second resolution would re-open the Idaho Republican Party’s primary, which has been closed to unaffiliated voters since the 2012 election cycle.

“It’s just to open the discussion,” Cravens said.

Duff supports simplifying the party’s platform.

“Our platform is supposed to reflect the values and principles that our party holds dear, and not necessarily an encyclopedia of opinions on every subject known to man,” he said.

Duff previously opposed closing the primary, but said he’s open to the idea of keeping it closed.

Sayer said platform and other policy-related items are the responsibility of delegates.

“The chairman’s responsibility is to take what they put together, package it and recruit support around that package,” he said.

Sayer said he would not “try and leverage everyone else into aligning with the chairman’s political philosophies.”

Peterson declined to comment on the party’s platform, saying it is up to the GOP’s resolutions committee.

“What they pass is the position of the party,” he said. “If they want something promoted — for instance, the management of all public lands in Idaho by Idaho — then I’m anxious to promote that position.”