State GOP chairman refutes legal opinions that he's no longer chair, seeks his own

June 17, 2014 

Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party Barry Peterson raises a fist in triumph at the GOP election night celebration in May 2014. Peterson's term as chairman effectively expired after the state Republican convention a month later failed to choose someone for the post, according to a legal opinion prepared for the party.

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A petition signed by 20 members of the Republican state central committee from eight different counties call for a special meeting of the committee in August to fill the state party's vacancies, including appointing a chairman.

Party bylaws say a meeting must be held if at least 15 committee members from at least five counties petition for it, said Dawn Hatch, Region IV GOP chairwoman. The Aug. 2 date was picked to be well within a requirement of 30 days' notice for such a meeting, she said.

The petition is not the only one circulating among central committee members in the state, Hatch said, but it is the only to specify a date. Asked what would happen if another date was petitioned, she said, "I don't know that we'll know that until it happens."

The vacancies are the result of last week's fractious state convention in Moscow, which was adjourned before delegates could vote on their party platform and state officers, including whether to re-elect Barry Peterson as chairman. Among other things, legal counsel Jason Risch concluded in a Monday letter to the state executive committee that the fiasco left the party without any current state officers.

"... It is my legal opinion that there is no provision for automatically extending the terms of the officers of the Idaho Republican Party, and ... the Office of Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party is vacant, as are the positions of First Vice Chairman, Second Vice Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer," Risch wrote.

Later Tuesday, Hatch also forwarded a letter by John R. Phillippe Jr., chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, to national GOP chairman Reince Priebus, reaching the same conclusion as Risch and warning that if the Idaho party does not fill its vacancy by the time of the RNC summer meeting, it will only have two delegates eligible to attend and not three. (The third, of course, would be the state chairman.)

"You may wish to inform (national committeewoman) Cindy Siddoway, (national committeeman) Damond Watkins and particularly Barry Peterson that for RNC purposes, the state chairmanship will be deemed vacant until it is filled in accordance with state party rules," Phillippe Jr. wrote.

The RNC summer meeting is scheduled for August.

Separately, Peterson told Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review that he disagrees with Risch's legal opinion and has asked for another opinion from attorney Christ Troupis.

“I’m adopting the position that was tendered at the convention when the motion for adjournment was made,” Peterson told Russell on Tuesday afternoon. The convention chairman, 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, conferred with his parliamentarians and announced that the result of voting for adjournment would be that “the party officers and the party position as to the platform etc. would be as they were constituted,” Peterson said. “Overwhelmingly, the vote was carried.”

Peterson has then called a 7 p.m. Thursday meeting of the state central committee's rules committee to review the legal opinions and discuss what to do next.

Peterson told Russell he thought the convention’s spectacular breakdown on Saturday – the only votes taken were on refusing to seat various delegates, and none of the scheduled business was taken up, from the chairmanship to the platform – was planned in advance.

“By design, they intended from the very beginning by parliamentary procedure to get the whole convention to go for four hours without taking a vote, and they were successful in that,” Peterson said.

He said he couldn’t say who “they” were.

“I do not know who put the plan together,” he said. “But I have no doubt that that’s what happened.”

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