Region VII of the Idaho Republican party held its 47th annual Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday at the Shilo Inn Convention Center in Idaho Falls.
State and federal GOP leaders were there to commemorate President Abraham Lincoln and give a legislative report to local party members.
Region VII sold 340 plates for the dinner and there wasn’t an empty seat in the ballroom, according to Region VII first vice chairman David Taylor.
Funds raised at the event — tables were sold for $1,000 apiece — will benefit regional county GOP groups. Region VII includes Butte, Bonneville, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Jefferson, Lemhi, Madison and Teton counties.
Counties will use the money to meet their obligations to the state and to fund “good and solid Republicans running for office,” Taylor said.
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, Idaho Sen. Brent Hill and Idaho Gov. Brad Little all spoke at the dinner.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Jim Risch were scheduled to attend the dinner but did not show. Simpson had a scheduling conflict and Risch is recovering from the flu.
State Controller Brandon Woolf was the master of ceremonies.
Wasden kicked off the speeches with a tribute to Lincoln, who was born on Feb. 12 and is proudly touted as the first Republican president and one of the founders of the party in the many Lincoln day dinners held by GOP groups around the country.
“He never came here, he never saw Idaho, he never slept here,” Wasden said. “But he had a significant amount to do with our becoming a state.”
Wasden drew parallels between the “acrimony” that Lincoln faced while president and partisan divides in Washington today.
“We watched a House hearing yesterday of an acting attorney general,” he said. “We saw the events that unfolded in the nomination process of a Supreme Court justice. The only word that comes to mind is terrible acrimony.”
Crapo, in his speech, praised the Trump Administration and Republican-controlled Congress of the last two years. He specifically praised four GOP accomplishments since Trump took office in 2017, namely, the appointment of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court, an increase in military funding, drawbacks on “abusive” regulatory rules and tax cuts.
Little focused on state politics during his keynote speech, laying out his plans for the next year.
Little said his default position is to make “our kids and our grandkids want to stay here.” That can be achieved through quality education and quality of life, he said.
“We absolutely have to get our kids reading proficiently at the end of the third grade,” Little said. “It’s our constitutional obligation but it’s also our moral obligation.”
Little said he hopes to raise starting teacher salaries to $40,000, either this year or next.
Little also said he plans, with help from the state legislature, to take a critical approach to business licensing, looking at new and old licensing requirements to decide whether they are necessary.
“We want to make sure that that licensing is still doing what it was originally established for: to keep you safe, to make sure that there’s a fair atmosphere out here, that over the years licensing hasn’t gotten to where it’s a barrier for entry, that it adds drag onto the economy, that it decreases incomes and jobs,” Little said.
The dinner wasn’t without protest. About a half-dozen picketers stood near the Shilo Inn parking lot entrance, holding signs that showed support for Proposition 2, a November ballot measure that expanded Medicare coverage, and raising Idaho’s minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.
Other signs opposed a proposal to add a seventh member to the commission that draws Idaho’s legislative district lines.
Nate Roberts, District 29 Democratic Party chairman, from Pocatello, was among the picketers. Roberts said he organized the “informational picket” to take advantage of the opportunity to get the attention of Republican leaders, including the governor.
Roberts opposes the proposal to add a seventh member to the districting commission, a move that’s being called gerrymandering by critics.
“My position is that’s just a power grab by the Republican Party,” he said. “They already have a supermajority; what are they trying to cement by adding a seventh member?”
Roberts also said he hopes GOP leaders will consider a bill to raise Idaho’s minimum wage.
Raising the minimum wage could really benefit the lower half, lower 40 percent, of Idaho’s workers,” he said. “If you want to have a strong economy in Idaho, it starts at the foundation.”