When Steve Yates moved his family to Idaho Falls a little more than two years ago, he hoped to become involved in Republican politics on some level.
Yates got his wish and then some Saturday.
The 45-year-old Idaho Falls businessman and former aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney was elected to lead the Idaho Republican Party.
After spending two months battling over who should control the state GOP, party members struck a truce Saturday and elected Yates — easing the political infighting that ground the state GOP convention to a halt. The chaotic convention adjourned in June without electing any party officers or passing any new platforms for the first time in more than 50 years.
Smoothing the ‘rough edges’
“The job of the new chairman is to smooth the rough edges, not stop the dialogue,” said state Sen. Jim Rice of Caldwell, who attended Saturday’s special meeting of the party’s governing body in Boise. “Get rid of the rough edges so we can focus on what’s important.”
One of three candidates for the post, Yates defeated Mike Duff of Blackfoot and Doug Pickett of Oakley. The voting was conducted by secret ballot during a meeting of the GOP’s state central committee held Saturday morning in Boise.
“That was (my) hope in coming here,” Yates said. “There are so many positive things about southeast Idaho. I had hoped I could be useful in some (political) capacity. Now the hard work begins.”
Duff gracious in defeat
During a brief telephone interview with the Post Register on Saturday afternoon, Yates spoke highly of Pickett, whom he defeated in a runoff election. No one received a simple majority in the first round of balloting, Yates said, so the two highest finishers — Yates and Pickett — qualified for the runoff.
“He (Pickett) was very gracious before and after the vote,” Yates said. “He’s someone capable of making a real contribution and I hope he does.”
Idaho Republicans are ready to unite again, Duff said.
“There’s a task at hand,” he said. “And that task — if we can execute it, and I think we will — will be hell for the Democrats come this November.”
Suit ends fight for control
Yates, the CEO of the Idaho Falls-based D.C. International Advisory, is a relative newcomer to both Idaho and state GOP politics. He seemingly came out of nowhere to win the state central committee post.
Divisions inside Idaho’s Republican Party have been growing for years, but after traditional Republicans made a series of key wins in the May primary election, many thought far-right conservatives would lose their grip inside the party as well.
Instead, tea party supporters tightened their hold. They said former chairman Barry Peterson should remain the party’s leader, though he was not officially re-elected at the convention.
The fight for control of the party ended in a lawsuit with a judge ruling that Peterson’s one-term reign expired when the convention adjourned.
A more subdued approach
Compared with the convention, where every move was critiqued and questioned, Saturday’s meeting was overwhelmingly subdued. Committee members applauded their adoption of the party agenda without challenging each other on parliamentary procedure.
A large crowd watched the meeting unfold, but Peterson was not in attendance.
“I wish I could say it was a pleasure addressing you today, but we are not here because things worked well,” Yates told the gathering. “I would not be someone brought forward as chairman if things had been working the way they always have and should.”
After winning election, Yates said it was time to restore the party and work to defend it from what he described as an intruding federal government.
“Let the healing begin,” he said.
Following the rules
Moving forward means following the rules, Bryan Smith said. The Idaho Falls attorney, who lost a primary challenge to Congressman Mike Simpson, was one of those who sued to try to keep Peterson as chairman.
Smith and other tea party supporters had argued that traditional Republicans loyal to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter had broken party rules to win key seats inside the party, including the chairmanship.
“The lawsuit was important for clarity, it was pivotal,” Smith said. “Now we have a party eager to follow the rules. … The new chair needs to consider all of the party’s opinions and not just pursue his own agenda.”
Seeking unvarnished opinion
Yates told the Post Register he intends to consult with party leaders across the state once he gets his office up and running. He’s also scrambling to work out attending a national committee meeting scheduled to begin Wednesday in Chicago.
Whether Yates will schedule a series of face-to-face meetings around the state or make use of technology to solicit the opinions of party leaders remains to be seen. But getting a good feel for what GOP leaders are thinking is essential, he said.
“I’m looking for some unvarnished opinions before I set any parameters or themes,” Yates said. “We have some contested races (and) we want success in the fall. It’s a welcome task (but) the sands of the hour glass are inching toward the bottom of the glass. We’ve got work to do.”
Kimberlee Kruesi of The Associated Press contributed to this report.