In GOP battle, both sides entrenched

A week of competing committees and dueling interviews ends with nothing settled.

STATESMAN STAFF AND WIRE REPORTSJune 21, 2014 

The battle between tea party forces and establishment Republicans had been building in Idaho, but since the disastrous party convention in Moscow last weekend, the divide has become more visible and contentious.

And more than ever before, the dispute has a face: Barry Peterson, who is either still the state GOP chairman, or isn’t, or is about to not be.

If Peterson doesn’t voluntarily step down, the spat seems poised to drag on for weeks: The Republican National Committee has signaled that it won’t accept him as a delegate to the party’s summer meeting in August, and Peterson opponents on the state Central Committee have petitioned for an Aug. 2 meeting to fill vacancies in state offices.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR LEAVES

About one year after Trevor Thorpe became the state GOP’s executive director, he has left to pursue a master’s degree, Peterson told The Spokesman-Review on Friday. That leaves just finance chief and office staffer Mary Tipps, who started a month ago, on the state party’s paid staff.

Peterson also said he had the office locks changed “for security reasons.” He said that over the years, through many changes, it had become unclear where all the keys to the offices were, so he decided “that it would be just as well to have things be where we knew where all the keys were.”

Peterson said he and Tipps are “working hard to try to meet the responsibilities of the office,” including paperwork involving elected party positions for each county and district, and contact information for them.

“It’s a heck of a workload and we’ve been distracted from being able to get all that done, so we’re just trying to get it done,” he told the Spokane paper. “We’ve got plenty of work to do.”

PETERSON DIGS IN

He told The Associated Press that he will continue to serve and that he still wants to help heal the broken Republican Party.

“In my wildest of dreams, I never anticipated this kind of event,” Peterson said. “But if people are willing to speak up, that’s healthy. That’s democracy. All I want to be is a servant for the party.”

He took steps Friday to share his view of the week’s events, telling The Spokesman-Review that he believes a state Rules Committee meeting Thursday that declared him to be chairman was proper and valid. A meeting of part of the state Executive Committee one day before that concluded the state party offices were vacant, but it was not handled properly and is null and void, he said.

An Idaho Republican Party news release Friday repeated those points, declaring in its subject line: “Idaho GOP: Barry Peterson is Chairman.”

Both Peterson’s wing and the establishment side of the party seem to agree that the other party officers — First Vice Chairman Mike Mathews, Second Vice Chairman Todd Hatfield, Secretary Marla Lawson and Treasurer Chris Harriman — are still in their roles, at least for now. But members of the group trying to oust Peterson believe Mathews to be the top-ranking GOP official in Idaho.

“It’s kind of a tinhorn dictator-type coup,” said Grant Loebs, a member of the state Central Committee and the Twin Falls County prosecutor, who believes Peterson’s term ends Tuesday. “And the question is what do you do when somebody stages a coup and has the office and changes the locks and has their hands on the bank account and the computer systems, how do you get them out of there?

“In this country, we don’t do it through violence, so we have to work through all the processes that are available to us.”

‘KIND OF A DONE DEAL’

Trent Clark, who chaired the state party from 1999 to 2002 and is a member of the Rules Committee, wrote a sharply worded email to about 370 Republicans on Friday alleging that mob rule had taken over. He told the Statesman that he believes Peterson will lose.

“My supposition is that Barry will see the writing on the wall and will cooperate with an orderly transition,” said Clark, director of public and government affairs at Monsanto.

However, Clark also signaled that the matter will enter court, at the very least to affirm who controls the party’s finances.

“I anticipate that shortly the legal action will occur as necessary to make sure that the accounts are under control and have the proper signatures on the signature card,” Clark said. “There’s no question that the account belongs to the Republican Central Committee and the Executive Committee is who speaks for that body — not Barry Peterson, not the Rules Committee.”

Clark’s email tore into the tea party wing. “So-called defenders of ‘limited government’ voted to empower their political bosses with tyrannical authority,” he wrote. They broke “all ties between government and the consent of the governed.”

That got a reply from Maria Nate, a member of the Rules Committee.

“I am sickened by this discussion of ‘absolute power corrupting absolutely’ being attributed to the liberty wing of the party which is fighting the ABSOLUTE CORRUPTION of the establishment,” Nate wrote.

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