Capitol & State

Barry Peterson loses control of Elmore County GOP, blames Otter

Embattled Idaho Republican Chairman Barry Peterson's nemesis — Mountain Home City Councilman Geoff Schroeder — was elected Elmore County GOP vice chairman Tuesday. And the new county chair is Megan Blanksma of Hammett, who ousted former Chairman Jace Prow, Peterson's friend and business partner.

"I think Barry's days are numbered," Schroeder said Wednesday. "Many people are tired of his method of doing business and his handling of the party over the last two years."

Peterson blamed Blanksma's and Schroeder's victories — two in a series of 10-8 votes Tuesday night — on supporters of Gov. Butch Otter who aim to replace Peterson as party chairman at next month's state convention in Moscow.

"The governor invested heavily — probably because I'm the chairman — in helping Geoff Schroeder to achieve the results that they got last night," Peterson said Wednesday.

Last week, at a GOP unity rally, Otter brushed off Peterson's request for support for a second term as chairman, saying, "I'm not endorsing anybody today."

Peterson said Wednesday he plans to run despite the cold shoulder from Otter and the setback in his home county. He said Otter has not returned a phone call he placed late last week.

"He didn't answer and he didn't return (the call), so I'm not sure what his position is," Peterson said, "Over the two years I've served as chairman, I've tried not to wear out my welcome. But when I've called he's returned my call. On this occasion, I might have been lost in the shuffle. I'm sure the governor is very busy and can't get to every base."

Peterson said he has no ill will for the governor, citing his prayer on Otter's behalf at the post-election unity rally.

"I asked for the blessings of Heaven to be on the governor," Peterson said. "Unity is not a one-way street. Unity has to be a two-way street."

Peterson said slick mailings and telephone calls helped shift control of the Elmore GOP in races for the county's 18 precinct committeeman spots. Schroeder, a 22-year veteran of the Idaho Army National Guard who served a year in Iraq, defeated Prow 87-82 in Mountain Home Precinct 4.

Prow and Peterson co-own A to Z Lumber and Hardware and Prow manages the Mountain Home business. Prow, who earlier had served as county chairman, returned to the volunteer post when Peterson became state chairman.

Two years ago, Peterson tried and failed to get Schroeder removed from the Elmore Central Committee when Schroeder withdrew his Republican affiliation the morning after he won his precinct committee race. Schroeder did so to protest the closed Republican primary, which also is opposed by Otter. The Peterson-controlled committee passed a motion censuring Schroeder for "behavior unbecoming" a Republican.

Otter repeatedly said during his winning campaign over Sen. Russ Fulcher that he wants the primary reopened to those unwilling to register as Republicans, the system in place until 2012. Delegates at the state convention could pass a resolution urging a return to the open primary, but any decision on changing the party's rule would be up to the state Central Committee.

Schroeder was elected as a state convention delegate and as chairman of the Legislative District 23 Republican Committee, over Peterson ally Chris Pentico. Pentico lost his Mountain Home precinct race to Bud Corbus, 123-60.

Other 10-8 votes that went against Peterson were Rich Sykes as state committee youth and former county commissioner Arlie Shaw as state committeeman.

County parties are organizing across Idaho this week, electing leaders and delegates to the state convention. Canyon County Republicans meet at the county courthouse tonight at 7. The Ada County GOP meets Thursday, also at 7 p.m., at the courthouse.