The Republican Party in Idaho, and specifically eastern Idaho, boasts a rich history of principled leadership.
Throughout the generations, good people have volunteered their time, money and passion, serving in unpaid positions because they believed in free enterprise, individual liberty, faith, family and the exchange of ideas that is the lifeblood of America’s representative democracy..
Idaho’s Grand Old Party featured party chairmen like Phil Batt, Trent Clark and Dennis Olsen, men who understood their job was to recruit candidates and bring more people into an expanding tent.
In eastern Idaho, county chairs and precinct officers have quietly gone about their business. They knocked on doors, organized fundraisers, mailed literature and put out signs.
Compare that to the leadership we have seen in recent elections from Doyle Beck and Bryan Smith. These party officials divide rather than unify. In the last two elections, they have done so by spreading campaign contributions throughout GOP primary races, often targeting lawmakers who cannot in good conscience support their tactics or libertarian leanings.
Their efforts have hurt the Republican brand in eastern Idaho. More on that in a moment.
But first, let’s follow the money.
Smith, Beck, members of their families and companies associated with both men, put thousands of dollars into contested primaries throughout eastern Idaho in 2016, supporting hard-right candidates like Karey Hanks, Chick Heileson, Ron Nate, Bryan Zollinger and Randy Neal.
Smith and Beck targeted elected officials like Dell Raybould and Wendy Horman, conservatives who are representative of our party’s great traditions and have spent years working to support Idaho families, businesses and public schools.
Most egregiously, in 2016, a company owned by Smith gave $7,000 and Beck $20,000 to Idaho Freedom Action, Inc. That money was used to attack Republican candidates, including officeholders like Horman. Can you imagine Phil Batt or Dennis Olsen stooping so low?
The 2018 primary saw more of the same.
The Smith-Beck duo contributed thousands of dollars to help their hard-right allies in contested Republican primaries. Tony Potts, Zollinger, Nate, Hanks and Julianne Young all benefited from their desire to elect a slate of officeholders beholden to them.
Even worse, they funded an organization that used a pilfered email to smear the name of former GOP State Chairman Steve Yates and hamstring his lieutenant governor candidacy.
And then we have the case of State Rep. Chad Christensen, who received $1,000 from Beck to help him unseat longtime conservative lawmaker Tom Loertscher.
Christensen just made the wrong kind of news by referring to his fellow legislators as “tyrants.” But he wasn’t finished. At a rally organized by a far-right militia group, Christensen said this of his fellow citizens, “We have become as a people like a frightened, battered, beat-down victim of an abusive relationship.”
Finally, the man Beck preferred to Loertscher said this: “It’s time we meet that oppression with resistance. I promise you this, I’ll be the first one to step outside these capital walls and stand with you when the time is right.”
That’s lunacy and an insult to a Republican Party that has controlled Idaho politics since Cecil Andrus retired in 1994.
This kind of extremism, funded by party leaders who should know better, is having a corrosive effect. It hasn’t shown up in a Democratic Party resurgence, because the GOP brand remains strong, thanks to the good work of officeholders Beck and Smith generally oppose — Mike Simpson, Brad Little, Bart Davis, Mike Crapo, Butch Otter, Jim Risch and others.
Every one of these leaders understands Idaho and our traditions. They know its people and their desire for a government that is limited, sensible and equipped to craft solutions to problems facing everyday Idahoans.
The integrity of our past party officials – and current officeholders like those named above — resonated with their fellow citizens and led to an unprecedented wave of Republican success in Idaho, at the federal, state and local levels.
The Becks, Smiths, Christensens and Zollingers of the world preach a doctrine that appeals to nobody outside their small circle.
And it’s beginning to show: in the landslide passage of the Medicaid expansion initiative, whose proponents were fortunate to have Smith, Zollinger and the Idaho Freedom Foundation as the face of its opposition; in the second term won by Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, despite Smith and Beck’s “Anybody but Casper” campaign; in an Idaho Falls City Council that is represented by more known Democrats than Republicans.
Every time a Chad Christensen rants about tyranny and insurrection, every time a Bryan Zollinger engages in a blatant conflict of interest, every time a group funded by Beck and Smith use despicable personal attacks to smear a good man like Yates, every time solid conservatives such as Loertscher, Horman, Raybould and Julie Van Orden are dragged through the muck, our party takes a step backward.
The primary election, once a place where ideas were freely exchanged and friends competed, then shook hands and went about the business of electing Republicans in the general, now features the most extreme kinds of rhetoric and character assassination so vile that good people find it easier not to engage in electoral politics.
Because party officials like Smith and Beck ignore our party’s great traditions, Idaho’s progressive movement gains momentum inch by inch.
And now we face the real possibility of Bryan Smith as state party chairman. You better believe that nobody wants that more than those who desire a progressive, Democrat-controlled Idaho.