By Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Idaho Capital Sun
A rule that would have required any candidate seeking a statewide, legislative or county level position to first obtain the endorsement of Republican central committees in order to be placed on a primary election ballot was defeated unanimously during a party rules committee meeting on Jan. 7.
The rule was passed by the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee in November.
Idaho Republican Party Chair Tom Luna said that the first step is an easy one to clear. Any central committee can pass a rule for the party’s consideration, and if it had passed the Rules Committee on Jan. 7, it would have been voted on by the full Idaho Republican State Central Committee at day two of the party’s winter meeting on Jan. 8. Normally, Luna said, rules deal with the minute details of party elections, such as record-keeping and processes. This rule in particular was an outlier that “touched a nerve.”
“People made it clear that we [would be] disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Republicans and their ability to vote and choose who will be their nominees going into the general election, and that if there [are] concerns about candidates and how they get access to the ballot, that this is not the way to address it,” Luna said.
The potential candidates would have been put through multiple rounds of voting through the committees in their districts until two candidates remained. If either candidate received 60% of votes, they would receive a place on the ballot. If neither candidate received 60%, both would be placed on the ballot.
Terrel N. Tovey, a county commissioner in Bannock County and precinct committee chairman who is also one of 16 members of the rules committee, said they had a good debate about the issue. He doesn’t necessarily disagree with the idea of trying to stop Democrats or members of other parties from sabotaging Republican primaries, which are the reasons given from the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee for the proposal, but he doesn’t believe that issue is widespread. And if the rule had passed, he said, a much smaller group of people would be deciding the candidates who appeared on the ballot.
“The whole thing is, we’re talking about people’s right to choose, and the freedom of choice, the freedom to affiliate is something we believe in quite dearly,” Tovey said. “We do need to look at if there’s a problem of [someone] purposely trying to affect a political process. But we need to actually address that issue and not try to use it for political gain to try to take political power.”
During a legislative preview event the morning of Jan. 7, Gov. Brad Little said he was “not a big fan” of the proposed rule and he thought it wasn’t well thought out.
“If that passed, then in a small county, maybe three central committee people can show up and decide who the only candidate is on the Republican ballot for prosecutors, sheriff, fill-in-the-blank,” Little said.
The change would have applied to any candidate seeking the following offices:
• Governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, superintendent of public instruction or state controller;
• U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives;
• County commissioner, clerk, auditor, sheriff, county treasurer, coroner or assessor.
For state offices, including congressional seats, the candidate would have needed the endorsement of the full Republican State Central Committee, while legislative candidates would have needed approval from the Republican legislative district committee in which they reside. For county candidates, the county’s Republican central committee would have final say.
The proposal was submitted by Mark Fuller, Bonneville County Republican Central Committee chair; Doyle Beck, state committee member; Lisa Keller, Legislative District 30 chair; Myleah Keller, Bonneville County State Youth Committee member; Linn Hawkins, Bonneville County State Committee member; and Bryan Zollinger, Legislative District Committee 33 chair.
Beck told the Idaho State Journal in an email that the reason for the proposed rule change was to prevent Democrats from running in Republican races and to keep left-leaning voters from participating in the GOP primary.
“This unethical practice is now promoted by our faithful [Republicans in name only],” Beck said in his emailed interview responses to the newspaper.
Tovey said he was surprised more people running for office this year weren’t more vocal in their opposition to the idea.
“Any person that is in favor of this should not hold a political position,” he said. “Because they’re hoping they don’t have to answer to the people.”
This story was produced by the Idaho Capital Sun, a Boise-based independent, nonprofit online news organization delivering in-depth coverage from veteran Idaho reporters on state government and policy. The Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit funded by tax-free donations in 22 states. Learn more and follow daily updates at idahocapitalsun.com and statesnewsroom.com.
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