The newly elected chairman of the Ada County Republican Party says he aims to unite the party as it heads to Moscow for the three-day state convention that is seen as a test of the loyalty of the party apparatus to Gov. Butch Otter.
"There's a lot of raw emotion out there," Chairman Fred Tilman said. "Let's get the personalities out of this and unify and conduct our business where everybody feels they have an opportunity to participate. And when the majority votes, that's how we're going to move."
The convention may replace Chairman Barry Peterson of Mountain Home, who has clashed with Otter over the closed GOP primary Otter wants repealed. Two candidates are challenging Peterson - Premier Technology co-founder Doug Sayer and Mike Duff, a former campaign aide to the late-U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage. Both are from Blackfoot.
Ada County's 102 delegates represent almost one-sixth of the 644 delegates statewide, and Otter appears to easily have the upper hand in the state's biggest county - though Sen. Russ Fulcher won Ada County in the May primary with 51 percent of the vote to Otter's 46 percent. Otter won 51-44 statewide.
Of the 102 delegates, 58 are current or former Otter staffers or appointees; state employees; lobbyists; current of former elected officials; or spouses of those four groups. Of the alternates, 31 of 50 fit in those categories.
Only a handful of the delegates and perhaps a dozen of the alternatives can be considered loyal to Fulcher, or the GOP's tea party wing.
That's according to an imperfect count by the Statesman, which omits names not immediately recognizable as fitting in either camp. The delegate and alternate lists were obtained by the Statesman after outgoing Ada County GOP Secretary Dawn Hatch declined to release the list, saying it could make delegates a target for burglars during the convention that runs from Thursday to Saturday.
Tilman confirmed the accuracy of the list. He said Hatch acted in good faith, but that he could cite no rule making the list secret. "There's nothing sinister there," he said.
A prominent Fulcher supporter, former Sen. Rod Beck of Boise, plans a challenge to the delegate slate elected May 29 at the Ada County GOP Central Committee's organizational meeting. He'll make his appeal to the state convention's Credentials Committee on Friday.
Beck said Monday that the majority's vote changed delegate selection "from an open opportunity for all to a secretly gathered private list and place-holding to prevent anyone other than the secret list of lobbyists, government employees, Otter loyalists and spouses."
Beck said some Otter loyalists are "simply placeholders" who will delay notice they won't attend the convention to deny spots to alternates willing to incur the expense of attending if they knew they would be seated.
Tilman said that to the best of his knowledge Beck's assertion is false. "Nobody had talked to me, I've heard no mention, nothing whatsoever about that," Tilman said.
"I'm so disappointed," Tilman said about his first few days as chairman. "So far, everything that we're going through has nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of issues or focusing on better ideas for our people and our candidates. We're just fussing over rules."
But Tilman said the delegate selection scheme needs improvement because there was no agreement on process. A single vote taken after 9 p.m. set the slate, based on a reading of names collected by Hatch. No written list was provided at the May 29 meeting.
"We are not going to go through something like this again," said Tilman, a former chairman of the House Education Committee who spent 13 years in the Legislature and more than eight years as an Ada County commissioner. "The fact is there was no clearly defined process of how delegates and alternates would be selected. We did the best we could."
Tilman took over the meeting immediately after he defeated former Chairman Greg Ferch, a Fulcher supporter.
"I kept hearing references to this caucus and that caucus and this caucus over here," Tilman said. "Wait a minute! We're in the same room. We're all Republicans.
"Boy, let me tell you, we've got some work to do," Tilman continued. "We've all got to come to the table, sit down and really start acting like a unified party as best we can. I understand we're always going to have different ideas, but we have to figure out how to allow for that within the Republican umbrella."
Tilman said he'll decide after the debate on candidates for state chairman and possible changes to the platform, including an end to the closed primary.
"I want to hear what the candidates have to say about how they're going to work to unify the party, to quit all this fragmentation," Tilman said. "That's what I want to hear."
Tilman said he is troubled by the low turnouts in the two closed GOP primaries, 24 percent in 2012 and 26 percent in 2014. He's also concerned the high proportion of unaffiliated voters may hurt the GOP brand with voters leaning Republican but unwilling of sign a document certifying party membership.
Of about 747,000 registered voters, about 264,000 — 35 percent — call themselves Republicans and can participate in the primary by party rule. The largest group of voters are unaffiliated voters, about 419,000, or 56 percent. They can't vote in the GOP primary but may participate in the Democratic, Libertarian and Constitution party primaries.
Just 8 percent of voters, or about 59,000, call themselves Democrats. Libertarian and Constitution membership is at 0.5 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively.
Otter faces Democrat A.J. Balukoff in November.
The following are lists of the Ada County delegation to the convention (misspelled names have been corrected when known; other errors may exist from the list provided to the Statesman).