IDAHO FALLS – Concerns that state legislators in Bonneville County may have violated the Republican Party platform is the focus of an investigation by the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee.
The committee is holding a hearing in Idaho Falls on Tuesday, Dec. 5, to give District 32 elected officials a chance to discuss their voting records on high-profile legislation during the 2023 Legislative Session. District 32 includes most of Bonneville County and the lawmakers serving the nearly 51,000 people living within its boundaries are Sen. Kevin Cook and Reps. Stephanie Mickelsen and Wendy Horman.
All three legislators say they aren’t planning to attend the hearing mainly because they aren’t interested in being party loyalists and appealing to special interest groups.
“On every issue they came after us with, it had an Idaho Freedom Foundation index. That is a special interest group and I am not going to be measured by a special interest group,” Mickelsen tells EastIdahoNews.com. “We’re voted in by our constituents, not by the party.”
Legislative District 32 Chairman Doyle Beck says the enforcement hearing isn’t about party purity or special interests, it’s about integrity.
“If they want (the support of the Idaho Republican party), candidates have to read through (the platform) and commit that they will follow it. The platform will be what their performance is judged by. They sign a paper to that effect,” Beck says.
Though the voting record in question for each candidate varies slightly, there are several bills they have in common. One of them is HB 138, which moved the presidential primary from March to May.
Mickelsen, Horman and Cook voted in favor of this bill. Mickelsen says the committee is claiming she voted against it, which is in line with the Idaho Republican Party’s stance on the matter.
Horman initially voted in favor of this bill, but later changed it. She explains what happened in a written response to Legislative District 32 committee members.
“The day I voted on this bill, Feb. 24, 2023, Dorothy Moon (Chair of the Idaho GOP) called me to ask about its fiscal impact,” Horman wrote on Nov. 18. “I sent her a text at 11:07 a.m. with screenshots of the Legislative Budget Book showing the Secretary of State’s budget listing a $2.5 million reduction if the March primary were moved to May. The vote was taken that same day in the floor session (which adjourned later that day).”
Six days after the vote, Horman was notified the party was opposed to this bill.
“I signed the petition to send us back into special session to reinstate a March primary. I did not sign the petition for a May primary,” Horman writes.
Committee members also took issue with their votes on HB 265, which aimed to restrict children’s access to sexual exhibitions, like Drag shows. Neither of them voted for it because they say it was vaguely worded and would’ve had the opposite effect than it intended.
“As written, any citizen could have sued a youth dance group or cheerleader that was showing cleavage or bare legs during a performance for being ‘sexually provocative,'” Horman wrote to the committee. “There are ways to write bills like this that give them a chance of surviving the 9th Circuit; H265 was not one of them.”
Though Horman says she’s willing to publicly account for her voting record, she says Beck — who was tasked with defining the rules for the hearing — said the meeting would be held in private. It made her concerned about the fairness of the proceedings.
Beck says the hearing has always been public. The only thing that’s private is the committee’s deliberation and vote.
“I tried to involve them in the rules, as a courtesy. Robert’s Rules of Order (a guide for handling legal proceedings) requires that you deliberate and vote in private,” Beck says. “They tried to take that and say we’re holding secret meetings. That’s bulls***.”
Beck says his only goal is to have an open, fair process so the committee members can decide what to do. He points to Article 20 of the Idaho GOP platform, which requires the chairman to set a date for an enforcement hearing when at least 20% of its committee members feel a violation has occurred.
The Bonneville County Republican Central Committee sent a news release to local media Friday encouraging legislators in District 32 to attend Tuesday’s hearing.
“They’re obligated to attend and they’re not doing it,” he says. “(If they don’t show up), we’ll proceed with the hearing and they won’t have an input and a decision will be made (based on statements they made in news reports), what they said on the House floor or what they’ve told (us) individually.”
If the committee votes to take disciplinary action, the rules indicate the candidates could be censured and Republican Party support will be removed for the rest of their term and any other campaign for public office for the next five years.
Tuesday’s hearing is open to the public, but only voters in District 32 are allowed to comment. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. inside the community room at Smith Chevrolet.
District 33 legislators have been invited to speak on their voting record as well, but a hearing date has not been specified.
District 33 Chairwoman Jilene Burger did not respond to a request for comment.
Lawmakers serving District 33, which covers the “doughnut hole” of Idaho Falls between Anderson, Skyline and portions of Sunnyside Road, include Sen. Dave Lent, Reps. Barbara Ehardt and Marco Erickson.
Rather than attend the committee hearings, legislators in both districts are holding a Town Hall Meeting at the College of Eastern Idaho on Thursday at 7 p.m. It is open to voters and is happening in room 150 of building 6.