The long-simmering conflict over control of the Republican Party in Bonneville County has broken into open warfare, with allegations that a “secret society” is operating to unseat local party leaders who have been openly critical of incumbent elected officials.
The state GOP’s top man says those allegations are nothing but conspiracy theories.
No longer confined to harsh words and backroom political maneuvering, the war is now being waged in the courts.
In December, Bonneville GOP Chairman Doyle Beck and Region 7 GOP Chairman Bryan Smith quietly filed a motion seeking to depose seven party members, including state Chairman Steve Yates and Ammon City Councilman Sean Coletti, who is challenging Beck’s leadership of the local party.
The other five are Marsha Bjorn, Richard Larsen and Doug Hancey of Rexburg, along with Stephanie Mickelsen of Idaho Falls and Ann Rydalch of Ammon.
The filing seeks to compel those depositions under an obscure rule in federal civil procedure, in anticipation of a possible suit for breaching unspecified duties to Beck and Smith.
“I was surprised by this baseless, hypocritical and unconstitutional action taken by Bryan Smith and Doyle Beck,” Yates said. “I also was surprised by the odd list of names targeted for attack in their petition, and to find my name among them.”
Yates said the petition is built on bizarre conspiracy theories and characterized it as “an attempt to silence or damage supposed political critics.”
“This … is just the latest of a long string of pointless, progressive, even authoritarian measures attempted by a dwindling anti-conservative minority seeking to thwart the will of a majority of conservatives within the Republican Party,” he said.
Three judges were either disqualified or recused themselves before the case was finally assigned to Senior Judge Richard St. Clair.St. Clair on Monday granted the motion to depose the party members. The seven party members were not notified of or present at the hearing.
On Wednesday, the seven party members named in the motion asked St. Clair to reconsider. They argue the obscure rule under which Beck and Smith’s motion was filed is meant to compel depositions when a witness may die or forget information that can’t be recovered later, not to conduct a fishing expedition.
“They simply want permission to conduct a witch hunt in order to populate a complaint,” the motion for reconsideration argues.
The latest conflict stems from a document that purports to outline a secret plan to “change the balance of power in Idaho politics to favor a stable, constructive majority.”
The document outlines a plan to spend more than $100,000 in Bonneville and Madison counties, including $7,500 per month on a consultant to help direct the organization. As outlined in the document — the authenticity of which has not been verified — the plan would be for a “core group” to recruit candidates and for “walkers” to go door-to-door to gather information on voters that could be used by those candidates.
The document indicates the effort will be carried out under the auspices of the “Idaho Prosperity Project” — which is the same name as a project linked to the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.
Beck declined comment. Christ Troupis, who launched an unsuccessful primary challenge to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in 2014 and is acting as Beck and Smith’s attorney, also declined comment.
Smith pointed out that the motion to reconsider was filed by attorney Timothy Hopkins, a partner at Coletti’s law firm.
“It appears that Mr. Coletti and his lawfirm are representing the Idaho Prosperity Project, but we will let the courts decide the matter,” Smith said.
In a letter from from state Republican party attorney Jason Risch to Troupis, Yates said he would “refuse to answer any questions which attempt to infringe on these constitutional protections which are afforded to every American citizen” if deposed.
“He will, on behalf of those citizens, stand up for the freedom of political association, freedom of political expression and freedom from government intrusion into those rights,” it states.
The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a heavy hitter in Idaho politics with ties to Gov. Butch Otter, has a short page describing the Idaho Prosperity Project on its website. And a second website outlining the project describes it as a joint effort between the Business-Industry Political Action Committee and IACI to help businesses educate their employees about politics. It makes no mention of organizing in Bonneville or Madison counties, or of virtually anything else in the memo.
Efforts to reach IACI to verify the document’s authenticity were unsuccessful.
The battle for control of the GOP stretches back years. Beck and like-minded hard-right party officials from northern Idaho formed the Integrity in Government PAC to oppose several GOP incumbents during the 2014 primary, including Otter and Wasden.
Suspicious contributions to that PAC are currently the subject of an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office.
Earlier this year, another political action committee called Otter PAC was formed with the stated intent of intervening in races from the top to the bottom of the GOP ticket, including in precinct committeeman races. Precinct committeemen are the ones who choose GOP chairmen.
Beck and Smith are outspoken critics of Otter PAC’s creation.
I’m not planning on trying this case in the press.
Region 7 GOP Chairman Bryan Smith