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A house divided: GOP convention spurs contention

A house divided: Convention sparks contention

MOSCOW, Idaho - This year's Idaho GOP Convention erupted in fighting, name calling, and eventually an early dismissal as Republican leaders across the state left Moscow with nothing accomplished.

Traditionally, the convention is held once every two years, and its purpose is usually to unite the state party members, vote on important party platforms and make sure everyone is on the same page. 

But this year, none of that happened.

Bannock County GOP Chairman Tony Madsen said the showdown between the more traditional Republican members and the more conservative, liberty caucus Tea Party members was nothing less than a gargantuan mess that was unfolding.

"They were sitting there quoting Robert's Rules to each other, obfuscating their own commission," Madsen said. "It was almost hilarious to watch."

The real contention was sparked when eight members from the Bannock County Tea Party approached the state's Credentials Committee, claiming the 24 voting delegates chosen to represent the county were not chosen fairly.

Those eight members were not allowed to vote on the state level. 

By the time the 15 voting delegates who were able to attend the weekend convention arrived in Moscow, they were informed tea party members had successfully petitioned to unseat all 15 from the county.

According to sources who wish to remain anonymous, they cited the party's own nondiscrimination clause, basing the discrimination on creed. 

However, Madsen said during the Bannock County GOP reorganization meeting held at the end of May, the party majority voted to send the 24 members of the party who held an elected position or who were running for an elected position to the conference and send someone as an alternate if that member could not make it.

But, Madsen said he received an email from state party leaders in Boise saying they were not allowed to send an alternate if a voting delegate was not able to attend.

Thirty members from the Credentials Committee voted to unseat the 15 voting Bannock County delegates and instead substitute the eight nonvoting members who launched the initial complaint.

Later, the commission said it realized it acted unconstitutionally, since the commission is allowed to unseat members, but does not have the authority to seat members.

By the end, nobody from Bannock County had a voice or a vote on the state level.

Ada and Twin Falls counties were also launched into the same situation over the weekend.

"What are the odds that people are going to challenge the three  most difficult counties for the person who wanted to get re-elected again for the state party chairman position? So, if you have a situation where your opponents are not allowed to vote, especially Ada, Twin Falls and Bannock counties who have up to 20 percent of the votes and all of a sudden they are not allowed to vote, it should have disavowed the election. Even if it wasn't done on purpose, no responsible party authority will say that although 20 percent of the people can't vote, let's go ahead and have the election anyway," Madsen said.

He also said that out of the 36 members who make up the committee, none of them were representatives from Bannock County. 

The committee members are all appointed by State Party Chairman Barry Peterson, who also happens to be running for re-election.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin had been attending the meeting the entire weekend, watching the chaos unfold.

He said he had never seen such conduct and disarray at one of these conventions before. In fact, he said the room was so divisive, it took nearly two hours before the party could even get through roll call Saturday morning.

"People were objecting to things, they were interrupting, they were yelling, and for three and a half hours Saturday morning, they were fighting over procedures, who could be seated, and then they went to lunch and had done nothing on their agenda," Corbin said. "That's when it really began to sink-in that this could get wild and this could be something we haven't seen before."

Sure enough, Corbin was correct.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho adjourned the meeting, and everyone left without having anything new voted on or accomplished.

Although the tea party movement has been gaining momentum in Idaho, Madsen said he is sure the party can work something out and end the divisive bickering.

"We will try to work with them, and we have some solutions that we will try to put in place. We are not trying to eliminate people, but if we get to the point where we can't move around the rock, we will have to move the rock. But that's only as a last resort, last straw. We don't want to have to do that. So at this point we need to have a little coordination and get together, understand each other and get the work done," Madsen added.

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