Fuller, Luna to face off for chairman

NAMPA — The first day of this year’s Idaho Republican convention kicked off with the Platform Committee recommending some new language be added to the party platform, including a couple of new anti-abortion provisions and a plank calling for penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.

Another proposal the committee adopted calls on a legislative apportionment system that would give each county one state senator instead of apportioning them by population, as is done now, and would take counties more into account in drawing state House districts.

“I see a looming big trouble in Idaho and what it is is the one man, one vote,” said Camas County’s Lee Barron, who brought the proposal.

Meanwhile, the committee voted to indefinitely postpone a vote on a southeastern Idaho delegate’s proposal to replace the current detailed, 14-page platform with a short statement of principles, effectively killing it.

Delegates from the state’s Republican county committees are meeting at the Ford Idaho Center from Thursday through Saturday. As well as voting on resolutions and platform changes, the delegates will choose a new party chairman, as Raul Labrador, who has held the post since summer 2019, has said he doesn’t plan to run for another term. Mark Fuller, who is the chairman of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee and like Labrador is affiliated with the party’s further-right wing, plans to seek the position, as does former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. Luna ran for the job in 2019, losing to Labrador by two votes. The convention will vote on a new chairman Saturday.

The convention, which is taking place in Canyon County, happens as coronavirus cases have been spiking across the state. Republican Gov. Brad Little, whose coronavirus restrictions have generated pushback from the right wing of his party, announced earlier Thursday that the state will stay in Stage 4 of his reopening plan rather than fully moving back to normal, as had been hoped would be possible by now, and Ada County, which borders Canyon, moved back to Stage 3 earlier this week, meaning bars that had briefly reopened were required to close again.

The convention hall has been set up to encourage social distancing — seats in the committee rooms and on the convention floor have been set up further apart than at the 2016 convention also held at the Ford Idaho Center, and some seats in the stands surrounding the floor are marked to be left empty. Surgical-style masks were being handed out at the door and some attendees brought their own masks, although most people at the convention Thursday weren’t wearing masks.

The full convention, which will hold general sessions Friday and Saturday, still needs to vote on the new platform planks the committee OK’d Thursday. One would switch to one senator for each of Idaho’s 44 counties instead of 35 senators apportioned by population. It would keep a 70-member House, except no House member could represent more than one county and each county would have to have at least one. Thus, while it would keep a proportional element it would also weigh the House more heavily in favor of smaller, less populous counties. By greatly reducing Boise’s representation, it would also increase the supermajority Republicans already hold in the state Legislature.

“How am I going to run as a county commissioner saying, ‘Well I’m a Republican, and we want to take away every senator you have here which is now nine and only make it one?’” asked Rod Beck, an Ada County delegate who is running for county commissioner there.

Barron called Idaho “a beautiful country of rednecks and flyover people, surrounded by a thin blue line of population,” and said population growth in the Treasure Valley will soon mean half of the state’s lawmakers come from Ada and Canyon counties. Barron’s county is one of the least populous in the state, with a little more than 1,000 residents.

“Because I’m tiny should I not be represented?” he asked.

Many states, including Idaho, apportioned state legislative seats similarly to what Barron is proposing until a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s mandated proportional representation. It would require a state constitutional amendment to try to implement the proposal and would almost certainly land the state in court. Barron acknowledged this but said he thinks the state could win such a suit.

The committee adopted a plank suggested by Fuller in support of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, and another from Kootenai County’s Bjorn Handeen supporting penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. Handeen brought a similar proposal to the 2018 convention but it was voted down, opposed by delegates from southern Idaho, where many farmers rely on undocumented workers.

“A lot of Americans are out of work,” Handeen said. “It’s sending the wrong message to let these illegal labor practices continue at the expense of our own workforce.”

The committee endorsed a plank saying no taxpayer money should go to abortion providers, plus one from Bonner County’s Scott Herndon saying all abortions are “murder from the moment of fertilization,” including in cases where a child was conceived as a result of rape or incest.

The platform has been a flashpoint for the party’s ideological divides in recent years. The more conservative wing of the GOP is well represented on many county central committees, including Bonneville’s, giving it greater sway over the platform’s contents. More moderate Republicans have voiced public disagreement with aspects of it, such as planks calling for a return to the gold standard and for U.S. senators to be chosen by state legislatures instead of voters.

Bear Lake County’s Charles Horikami suggested replacing the platform with a short statement of support for the U.S. Constitution and principles such as the rights to life and to bear arms, free enterprise and fiscal conservatism. Horikami said his proposed platform was “short and sweet” and each principle was tweetable at 280 characters or less. He said he had worked with state Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, one of the most conservative members of the state Legislature, on his proposal.

“Shakespeare said brevity is the soul of wit, and I believe this is a document that will be easily digestible, as Charles is saying, by voters,” said Bingham County’s Dan Cravens.

The committee’s majority disagreed.

“Our current platform has been drafted and prepared and debated over years and years and years,” said Bonneville County’s Bryan Smith. “And we’re talking about taking everybody’s efforts over the last several years and replacing it with the wisdom of two people.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.