"Fiasco" was the word Betsy Russell used in the Sunday, June 15, Spokesman-Review to describe the collapse of the Idaho Republican Party Convention in Moscow. The Associated Press quoted convention chairman Congressman Raul Labrador admitting, "This is as low as the party can go. We have hit bottom."
Infighting brought the convention to a halt and it adjourned, we are told, without the election of a chairman or the passage of a party platform. One delegate moaned that the convention had made the Republican Party the laughingstock of Idaho.
As a longtime Democrat, my first response was to laugh. This is the Republican Party of the reddest of red states, where Republicans hold all four Congressional seats, the governor's office, all the state elected positions and 85 out of 105 legislative seats. And they can't get their act together to pass a party platform?
But this isn't humorous. It's tragic.
I suspect the disaster was a gut-wrenching experience for convention delegates, especially delegates attending a political party convention for the first time. I can identify with the disappointment, the emotional letdown, even the anger that had to course through the veins of most delegates to the failed convention.
I've attended a goodly number of state Democratic conventions, and recall many passionate arguments and lively debates. But never a total impasse.
It had to be humiliating and maddening to be an elected delegate not accepted by the credentials committee. Evidently the party chair, Barry Peterson of Mountain Home, wasn't given the nod from Gov. Butch Otter for a second term as chair. Fighting back, Peterson evidently told his cronies on the credentials committee not to seat some Ada and Bannock County delegates, because they were likely supporters of Otter's preferred candidate for party leader.
This is petty sandbox politics — not worthy of a major state party. We can't help but worry about the impact this example of raw power politics may have on the minds of potential young activists.
Certainly it won't inspire a young voter to jump into a political party activity. Polls tell us that GenXers and Millenials already are turned off by the partisan wrangling that has brought gridlock to Congress.
Our increasingly complex, challenging world needs its finest minds and strongest leaders at the helm. What happens if the best and the brightest young leaders remain disenchanted with partisan politics? What alternative forms of political organization are there to choose from? Or invent?
We can only guess which faction of the Republican Party in Idaho will come out on top of this battle for control. It may not matter, as the Tea Party/ Libertarian bunch has been calling the shots for years. For several election cycles, Republican office holders have competed in polishing their ultraconservative images.
This past spring marked the first election cycle where moderate Republicans across the country fought back against right-wing candidates in an organized fashion. While moderate candidates held sway in most of Idaho in the recent May primary election, North Idaho lost four moderate Republican incumbents, beaten by Tea Party favorites.
My principal reason for writing about the aborted Republican convention is to emphasize how important I believe a political party platform is in a conservative, one-party state such as Idaho, where ideology rules. Every Idahoan concerned about the health of our schools, our economy and our citizens should worry about the passionate fervor of ideologues who want to be in charge of the game and the rules.
The results of Tea Party/Libertarian influence are on display in Idaho's policy showcase. As a result of this competition to see who can be most conservative and most anti-federal government, flawed decisions are coming out of Boise. The decision to not return funding of public schools to the pre-recession level and the decision to not consider Medicaid expansion are just two examples of the tyranny of conservatism run amok.
We who are Democrats and Independents in Idaho are at the mercy of the majority Republican Party. We are pawns, not players. The Republican governor sets the state budget. Republican committee chairs set the legislative agenda. When a strong, vocal, effective movement, like the Tea Party, has such enormous influence on Republican political thinking and candidates, the impact on policy touches every segment of public life.
Democrats in Idaho worked to produce a party platform at the Democratic state convention on Saturday, also in Moscow, that is a clear and concise summary of the values Idaho Democrats hold dear. The document reflects a strong emphasis on the importance of funding public schools, recognizing human rights, expanding Medicaid and maintaining a healthy Idaho environment.
However, we cannot laugh at the plight of the Republican Party's platform, as their problems become problems for all of Idaho. ♦