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The State of The Republicans

The internal disarray of the Idaho Republican Party


Being a Democrat in Idaho is tough, but try being a Republican—a dyed-in-the-wool, elephantine political animal, steeped in what was once affectionately known as the Grand Ol' Party. Sure, the GOP has been in full control of the Idaho Statehouse (ours is the second most Republican-controlled lower house in the nation, our Senate is the third most) and yes, Republicans control every state elected office and the entire U.S. congressional delegation. But while the party may be old, it is far from grand. And whether Idaho Democrats are able to make any political hay over the Republican party's muddle remains to be seen—even GOP party faithful were confounded by a string of 2014 fiascos: The May 14 GOP Governor's Primary debate was must-see viewing if get your news from Comedy Central; the May 21 primary saw state GOP veterans kicked to the curb by the fringes of their own party; the circus that was the June state Republican Party convention with Rep. Raul Labrador as its ringmaster served as a national embarrassment for the Idaho GOP; and the confusion at Idaho Republican Party headquarters, where locks were changed and resignations the order of the day, culminated in July 2014 with former Party Chairman Barry Peterson suing several Republicans loyal to Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter in a leadership dispute.

"This onslaught is because the party would not bend over," said state GOP Chairman Barry Peterson on KIDO radio June 20, adding that his far-right wing of the party was "praying that we have the strength to stand up against this onslaught."

But this "onslaught" can be tracked all the way back to the spring of 2010, when Republican leaders hand-picked Vaughn Ward, a Sarah Palin-backed Marine and former CIA operations officer to challenge incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick. Voters soon learned that Ward thought Puerto Rico was a nation, had failed to vote in the previous presidential election and had a nasty habit of plagiarizing other candidates, including President Barack Obama.

Enter Labrador, a Canyon County immigration attorney who was elected to the Idaho House in 2006—and who was raised by a single mother in Puerto Rico, which is an unincorporated U.S. territory. It seems like a distant memory now, but Labrador first exercised his political muscle in 2008, when he, surprisingly and successfully, challenged Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's plan to raise taxes to fund Idaho roads and bridges. At the time, Labrador couldn't even get a little love from the National Tea Party, which threw its endorsement to Minnick. But Labrador recruited fellow Idaho House Rep. Lawerence Denney (then-speaker of the House) as campaign co-chair, upset Ward in the GOP primary and upset Minnick in the general election (by a 10-point margin).

In the meantime, Denney was also meeting resistance from power brokers in his own party. He was ousted from his speaker's chair in early 2013 in favor of moderate Rep. Scott Bedke. But Denney positioned himself to have the last laugh: In May 2014, he pushed past a strong slate of challengers in the Republican primary to secure his party's slot to run in for Idaho secretary of state, a job which includes oversight of the state's elections.

Meanwhile, the summer of 2014 couldn't have ended soon enough for Labrador, after a brief but damaging debacle as chairman of the Idaho Republican Party Convention in Moscow, Idaho, in June. The meeting devolved into chaos when there were repeated attempts by the party to reject up to a third of its own delegates—mostly from the Treasure Valley and the moderate wing of the party. Labrador limped away from the affair leaving GOP leaders in the lurch. Some said that since Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson hadn't been re-elected at the convention, he was out of a job. Peterson rushed back to his office in Boise's Hoff Building and changed the locks on the doors for what he said were "security reasons," insisting that he was still in charge. Idaho GOP Executive Director Trevor Thorpe resigned, as did finance chief Mary Tipps Smith.

"Please pray for the Party during a difficult time with no staff members and for the right people to come alongside and be successful in their endeavors," Smith wrote on her Facebook page.