Republican convention ends in meltdown

MOSCOW – A fiasco. A mess.

Scott Bedke
House Speaker Scott Bedke

That’s how Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, and House Speaker Scott Bedke described the Idaho Republican State Convention that adjourned Saturday without any business being accomplished.

“Is it a mess? Yes. That’s my quote,” a frustrated Bedke said moments after U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, unexpectedly adjourned the biennial convention.

More than 500 Republicans gathered at the University of Idaho for the three-day convention. They were expected to refine the state party platform, consider a slate of resolutions and elect a party chairman.

Unifying the faithful ahead of November’s general election was another big goal.

None of that happened.

Instead, the only official action that took place is Republican delegates booted all fellow Republicans from Bannock County. Members were in the process of kicking out 82 more Ada County Republican delegates when Labrador intervened and closed the proceedings.

“It’s just a fiasco,” Romrell said. “We haven’t accomplished anything. Trying to disallow delegates? It’s just a mess. I don’t see a lot of unity.”

Sen. Dean Cameron, a Rupert Republican who serves as co-chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, was even more disappointed.

“Unfortunately I think there was violations of rules right from the very beginning,” Cameron said. “It’s a sad day for the Republican Party.

“I think people left here even more disenfranchised,” Cameron continued. “It falls right on leadership of the convention and leadership at the party level.”

The division began in the weeks leading up to the convention when delegates from Ada County learned they might not be seated on committees because of perceived violations of party rules for naming or submitting the names of delegates.

In turn, several Ada County delegates cried foul, saying the moves represented a political power grab by State Party Chairman Barry Peterson, who was up for reelection.

“(Peterson) clearly, clearly stacked his committees to achieve results that would ultimately give the tin foil hat caucus the majority control of the convention,” Ada County delegate and lobbyist Ken Burgess said. “Which one would assume would result in him being elected chairman. It’s analogous to having the Walter Bayes and Harley Browns of the world deciding what the future of the party is going to be.”

In the end, Peterson retained power because the convention adjourned before any vote on leadership could take place. The chairman faced challenges from Blackfoot business executive Doug Sayer and Blackfoot Republican Mike Duff.

Even Labrador, who pledged to help unify the party the night before, took notice. “Obviously there has been a little bit of a conflict over the last day or so,” he said.

The vote to exclude Bannock County Republicans was announced 245-170.

Some cheered when the votes were announced. Others booed, hissed loudly and traded verbal barbs with fellow Republicans.

Several Ada County Republicans vowed to seek a refund of their $75 convention fees. Convention treasurer Jared Larsen said Friday, before it became apparent the convention would adjourn before any business was accomplished, that issuing refunds to all aggrieved delegates and alternates could total more than $15,000, which would jeopardize the party’s ability to pay for its convention.

Peterson made a point Friday to announce on several occasions that the party paid $18,000 to use the Kibbie Dome for the weekend.

It was not immediately clear whether any delegates actually sought refunds, or if they will be given.

The fight over seating delegates and ultimate meltdown soured a weekend when many delegates spent large sums of money and drove long distances to attend the North Idaho convention. It took nearly 90 minutes to take roll first thing Saturday, after several Republicans objected to procedures and expressed their frustration with how things were progressing.

Prior to the the convention, several Republican strategists said one of the most important functions of the convention was to unify and energize Republicans ahead of November’s general election.

“The most important goal of this convention is to end the debate showing our differences and reestablish our common thread of being Republicans,” Idaho Falls political organizer and RNC member Damond Watkins told Idaho Education News earlier this month.

Cameron said the party failed miserably in that endeavor.

“I think we could have had an opportunity to unify the party and unify behind our statewide candidates and I don’t see that happening,” he said.