Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, is the most prominent advocate of the sheep industry in the Idaho Legislature and was the focus of unwelcome national attention when he lost 176 sheep spooked into a stampede by wolves last year.
This week, Siddoway endorsed Doug Sayer for Idaho GOP chairman, despite Sayer's being vice chairman of the Wild Sheep Foundation, which has long battled with ranchers over grazing conflicts. Hunting advocates want the animals widely separated out of concern for disease, which has reduced traditional domestic grazing.
Sayer and his wife, Shelly, are avid hunters and Shelly is CEO of family-controlled Premier Technology in Blackfoot. Doug Sayer also has been on the board of the Mule Deer Foundation.
Siddoway told me about a 2009 dinner with Sayer that included Siddoway's wife, Cindy, who is Idaho's Republican national committeewoman and a member of the Republican National Committee. Also on hand were Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association; Margaret Soulen Hinson, a member of a prominent sheep ranching family; John Watts, a lobbyist and former Idaho Fish & Game Commissioner.
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On Sayer's side of the table were wild sheep advocates.
"You could tell they hated my guts," Siddoway said. "I was the anti-Christ. We couldn't agree on anything — except that we all hated wolves."
But Sayer, who owned an outfitting business before founding Premier Technology in 1996, won Siddoway over with his affection for big game and his backcountry ethic. "There's not much difference between an outfitter and a sheepherder," Siddoway said.
Siddoway said Sayer has become a defender of the domestic sheep industry among wild sheep advocates.
"What he's looking for is a solution on how the domestic sheep operations can survive and how the bighorn sheep population can survive," Siddoway said. "That's his style. And that's why I think it's important for him to get this position at this time.
"We have a divided party, there's no question about that," Siddoway continued. "If we've got a guy like Doug Sayer that's willing to listen to both sides and we can come out with common solutions and maybe drop some of those planks in the platform that polarize us."
Siddoway cited the Idaho GOP platform's call to repeal the 17th Amendment and return the election of U.S. senators to state legislatures.
Sayer is challenging embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson and Blackfoot sheep breeder Mike Duff for the chairmanship. The election is Saturday at the Idaho Republican Convention in Moscow.