by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
Idaho Republican Party state central committee members will consider a controversial platform enforcement mechanism this week, as well as a constitutional amendment idea that would effectively neuter an anticipated ballot initiative.
The Idaho GOP 2023 summer meeting takes place on Friday, June 23 and Saturday, June 24 in Challis. Prior to statewide meetings, Republican party members can submit resolutions and rule changes to their local central committee or the party chairman for consideration. Those proposals must be adopted by the state central committee to become an official stance or position of the party.
Christy Zito, the resolutions committee chair for the summer meeting, told Idaho Reports in a Thursday interview that the resolution process is a bottom-up way for the Idaho GOP to hear from its grassroots.
“These resolutions are the guidance and direction to the legislators from their constituents on what is important to them, and what they want to see done with the legislative body,” said Zito, a former state senator who plans to run for the Idaho Senate again in 2024. “When I was a legislator, it meant a lot to me.”
The proposed resolutions on the docket cover a wide range of topics, such as preventing marijuana legalization or supporting high school history requirements. They include stances such as support for a convention of states on congressional term limits, a call to prohibit the sale and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Idaho, as well as a declaration of no confidence in House members who voted against a controversial library materials bill vetoed by the governor earlier this year. Several counties submitted resolutions calling for withdrawal of U.S. military presence from Syria, and several submitted resolutions celebrating the upcoming 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
“The committees tend to be very thorough, and when something makes it to the floor for a vote of the entire body, it’s been given a lot of thought and a lot of consideration and a lot of discussion,” Zito said.
The Constitutional Changes
One of the resolutions proposes an amendment to the state constitution enshrining that “political parties shall have an inherent right to choose its nominee for the office in question for the general election.” The resolution references the party’s standing opposition to ranked choice voting, as well as political parties’ right to function without government intrusion.
A change to the state constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote from the legislature, followed by a simple majority vote in a general election.
Another proposal expresses that “progressive-era leftists embedded in the Idaho Constitution a tool created by socialists that exists largely to frustrate conservative governance;” the ballot initiative, which the resolution calls for eliminating entirely. Another resolution calls for dissolution of the state’s independent redistricting commission and returning that responsibility to the legislature.
In addition to the policy resolutions, the meeting will take up changes to the Idaho Republican Party rules.
Enforcing the Platform
The state central committee will once again take up a controversial platform enforcement rule. The proposal would empower the state and local central committees “to call into question the conduct of a Republican official” regarding the party platform or the state and federal constitutions.
The central committees upon petition would set a meeting to hear the alleged violations and allow the GOP official to respond. A majority of the committee could vote to censure the official, and subsequent censures with a 60% majority could “remove Party support and prohibit the use of Republican Party identifiers on campaign information and advertising” during the individual’s current term and any other campaigns for five years.
“Access to the ballot, by any candidate who desires to put their name forward, is a constitutional right that we do not believe should be taken away by law. That’s why we oppose term limits. That’s currently in our platform,” Trent Clark, a former party chair, told Idaho Reports in a Thursday interview. “I find the whole idea, to let a little group of party volunteers tell you that you cannot put your name forward to be voted upon by local Republicans – I mean that’s, well, too communist a system for me.”
The Unfinished Business
In addition to the platform enforcement rule, the central committee will take up one more issue that was tabled at the January winter meeting.
The proposed rule change would remove voting power on the state executive committee from the leaders of the Idaho Federation of Republican Women, the Idaho Young Republicans, and the College Republicans, as well as the party finance chair.
The leaders of those auxiliary groups currently hold voting seats on the executive committee, alongside the party’s statewide officers and regional chairmen. The auxiliary groups would become nonvoting executive committee members if the rule is adopted, like the leaders of party donor clubs and the teenage Republican representative.
Tracey Wasden, president of the Idaho Federation of Republican Women, told Idaho Reports on Thursday that she does not support losing her organization’s vote amongst the party leadership.
“Women have been on the Idaho GOP executive committee for over fifty years, and before that time Idaho was not considered a red state,” Wasden said. “We are the workers in this party. We’re the individuals that go door to door, work in campaigns, run campaign offices, get people to run, and we also support women who are running.”
Wasden told Idaho Reports that she wanted to voice her concerns at the winter meeting in January. The rules committee chair can – but is not required to – take public input on the resolutions, she said, and she stood for 20 minutes hoping to be recognized by the chairman.
“One of the considerations that they wanted us to think about was, they said, ‘You would still have a voice on the GOP committee, you just wouldn’t have a vote,’” Wasden said. “You wouldn’t even recognize me to say anything in that meeting. You don’t want my voice – and if I don’t have a vote, nobody is going to listen to what Republican women have to say.”
Several legislators who are members of the Idaho Young Republicans publicly opposed the proposal as well when it was discussed in January.
The Presidential Primary
The top-of-mind issue for some Republicans is the fact that lawmakers eliminated the March presidential primary during the legislative session just ahead of the 2024 campaign season, and they haven’t made any public moves toward addressing the issue.
Clark told Idaho Reports that there isn’t enough support among lawmakers to reinstate the March primary date because many Republicans either want to push the presidential contest even earlier, to January or February, or they want to combine it with the statewide primary election in May.
“Now that there’s no longer a bond election in March, we would be mounting a statewide secure election, a canvassing process, all of the expenses associated,” Clark said. “You’re talking $4 million to run a statewide primary, and it would solely serve the purpose of private parties.”
A proposed resolution urges a special session to reinstate the March primary date, while two proposed rules offer backup options for the party to run its own contest if the legislature does not act.
One proposal would create a state convention where local central committees would send delegates to meet in January or February and select Idaho’s delegates to the national convention. The other would create a Republican presidential caucus on the first Saturday in March.
Clark told Idaho Reports that he does not believe the convention system is likely to pass, and said he believes the options will either be a party-run caucus or pushing lawmakers to fix the primary date.
“I think that [a caucus] will be the option that is preferred in the rules committee, because that is the option that I believe the controlling cabal has blessed. That option will make it to the floor where some Republicans, like myself, are going to offer amendments,” Clark predicted.
The caucus proposal has a provision that would revert back to using the March primary if the legislature reinstated it before the relevant Republican National Committee deadline. The convention proposal does not.
“I think people in the state of Idaho want to vote in the presidential primary. They do not want to have a caucus or convention,” said Wasden, the women’s federation president. “There is not an appetite right now to call the legislature back into session, but I would truly ask them to do something immediately when they start out in January .”
Zito, the resolutions committee chair, was more open to the idea of a special session – especially after an Idaho Supreme Court ruling this week that private entities may ban guns during private events on leased government property. In the unanimous decision, Justice John Stegner wrote the Second Amendment and Article I, section 11 of the Idaho Constitution apply only to government entities, and not private parties who may wish to restrict firearms at their events or venues.
“I find it shocking that the Second Amendment was not upheld,” said Zito, who is also the political director for the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, one of the plaintiffs in the case. The court ruling and the presidential primary, she said, are "two issues that are really, really important to the future of our state."
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.