Former state GOP heads say party needs 'course correction' after divisive changes - East Idaho News
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Former state GOP heads say party needs ‘course correction’ after divisive changes

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(Idaho Statesman) — Former leaders of the Idaho Republican Party fiercely criticized the current chair, Dorothy Moon, as a hard-right faction within the party battles with some of its more established members.

Former party leaders Tom Luna and Trent Clark called Moon’s party one of “purges, division and expulsions” in a Wednesday news release, and warned her that without a “course correction,” the “failure to act now will force a statewide campaign to replace current leadership.”

“We have veered significantly from the inclusive big tent party envisioned by Ronald Reagan,” the former leaders said.

The Idaho Republican Party earlier this year instituted a caucus system to select the party’s nominee for president after a bill inadvertently eliminated Idaho’s presidential primary, and lawmakers failed to agree to hold a special session to reinstate the primary. Most senators supported holding a primary in May, while most representatives were in favor of a March election, according to previous Idaho Statesman reporting. A caucus is now scheduled for March.

Critics have said a caucus will limit the number of participants and be costly. While recent years have seen a state-run primary for Republicans and Democrats in March, caucuses are paid for by parties, which Luna and Clark said will cost an estimated $500,000 and won’t be covered by filing fees. In their release, Luna and Clark also said the caucus will “exclude nine out of 10 Idaho Republicans from voting for the next Republican nominee for president” by requiring voters to come in person at a specific time.

In recent months, local party leaders have bridled at Moon’s moves to get involved in the selection of local officials. Leaders of the Bingham County Republican Central Committee took the state party to court in October after Moon’s efforts to overrule the county party’s election of a new chairman.

“The way Dorothy Moon has been running the Republican Party — she wants it the way she wants it, and that’s all she’ll accept,” Matt Thompson, the chair of the county’s central committee, previously told the Statesman.

Days later, six top leaders of the Ada County GOP, including its chairman, resigned.

“Without immediate course correction, decades of grassroots party-building will be lost,” Luna and Clark said in their release.

In a statement, Moon called the former leaders’ comments “sophistry,” and said the party had asked the Legislature to restore the presidential primary and that its removal “had a significant impact on hundreds of thousands of voters, both Republicans and Democrats alike.”

“It is important to note that the removal of the presidential primary was not our decision,” she said.

Moon said the party’s “course correction” came in 2022, when “grassroots” supporters elected new leadership and wrote some new rules.

Upset in Idaho Falls

Criticism from the party’s former leaders comes as party apparatuses around the state have begun to make use of changes implemented under Moon’s direction.

One of the changes is a new rule, adopted this summer, that allows party leaders to punish elected officials who do not toe the party line. If one-fifth of precinct committee members in a legislative district doubt the positions taken by an official, they can summon the official to a meeting to respond to the violations, after which the party could decide to punish the official by censuring them, according to party rules. A supermajority of the committee could then strip officials of their Republican affiliation if they’re censured more than once.

Six Idaho Falls lawmakers have received letters from the GOP’s local legislative district committees in recent weeks, warning them that they may have strayed from their party’s platform.

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Sens. Dave Lent and Kevin Cook and Reps. Marco Adam Erickson, Barbara Ehardt, Wendy Horman and Stephanie Jo Mickelson have all received letters questioning some of their votes from this year’s legislative session, Nick Contos, the chair of the Bonneville County Republican Committee, told the Statesman. The letters were sent from the GOP committees for legislative districts 32 and 33, both in Bonneville County.

Erickson told the Statesman he received a letter before Thanksgiving with 15 accusations about votes he had taken during this year’s legislative session, accusing him of aligning with Democrats on certain bills.

Erickson said the letter criticized his votes in support of funding for Idaho Launch, which provides state funding for residents to attend college and his support for a partnership for medical student training with Washington and other states.

“I don’t call names, but you guys aren’t Republicans — you’re libertarians pretending to be Republicans,” Erickson said, referring to the precinct committee members as ideologues who “want to defund everything.”

Erickson said he plans to encourage other people to run for the precinct committee positions, which are elected by neighborhood residents. He said he has not been notified about a potential hearing, but doesn’t plan to participate in one because he expects any vote to censure him would be taken by a secret ballot.

“You don’t censure people over differences of opinion,” he said. “That’s just a scary line they’re crossing there.”

Contos said the District 32 committee held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the allegations against Cook, Horman and Mickelson, and that none of the lawmakers attended. Contos said the committee plans to vote on the allegations at a later date.

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District 33 has not yet scheduled meetings for its accused lawmakers, he said. The district’s chair, Jilene Burger, did not respond to a request for comment. The District 32 committee could not be reached.

Cook told the Statesman he did not participate in the Tuesday hearing after his request that the votes be held in public was denied.

“I do not understand how one would want to judge me on a vote I am required to do in public behind closed doors in the cloak of darkness,” he said by email. He added that the committee incorrectly said he opposed a veto override on a bill that would have allowed residents to sue librarians who have allowed children to see “harmful” material. Cook supported the bill, which Gov. Brad Little overrode. An attempt to override the veto failed in the House. The bill never returned to the Senate.

Contos told the Statesman that local party groups have always been able to criticize lawmakers, but that the new rule provides a process. He said the letters only need support from a fifth of a committee’s membership to be sent, meaning that an eventual censure is not certain.

“It’s a process that’s intended to be focused on their commitment to the party and to the platform and to the brand,” he said.

Contos said he thinks legislators should meet with constituents who have tough questions for them about their votes.

Contos said the committees are made up of volunteers, and that some of the language in the letters may have been “clumsy” and poorly chosen, but that in principle, “the party has a right to ask those who have been nominated by the party to answer questions.”

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