Capitol & State

As Paul skedaddles to Iowa, Labrador attempts to heal Idaho GOP rift

When Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul learned Friday that his friend Congressman Raul Labrador would be presiding over Saturday's fractious Idaho Republican Convention, he wanted to be sure he would stay clear of the fray.

"You guys have all kinds of stuff that'll go on — and I'll be gone by the time that goes forward?" Paul asked Labrador after their brief noon news conference at Jackson's Jet Center at the Boise Airport.

"You will be gone," Labrador assured Paul, who was in Idaho to give Friday's night's convention keynote.

The possible presidential candidate, flying on a charter jet, suggested he wanted no part of the fight for control of the Idaho Republican Party apparatus. He reminded Labrador of an intraparty battle in the Lone Star State.

"That's why in Texas I said, 'That's their business,'" Paul told Labrador, who is working to tamp down the controversy. Paul's plane was set to take him to Iowa to speak to the Iowa Republican Convention on Saturday.

Paul and Labrador arrived in Moscow in time for Paul's dinner speech, after one-fifth of the delegates had been disqualified by a committee stacked with libertarian and tea-party aligned members appointed by GOP Chairman Barry Peterson. Gov. Butch Otter wants Peterson out, but the Mountain Home businessman is fighting like a tomcat to stay in power.

In his convention speech, Paul spoke generically about unity, saying, "Really, overall, Republicans have more unifying beliefs than dividing."

Then Paul headed for Iowa — the first-voting state of the 2016 GOP presidential race — where he will join two other presidential prospects speaking to state convention delegates. Also on the bill are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

It's not the first time a member of the Paul family might have played a role in a divided Idaho Republican Party.

Two years ago, former Idaho Libertarian Party Chairman Ryan Davidson tried to win control of two-thirds of the GOP convention delegates. His aim was to overturn Mitt Romney's winner-take-all victory in the Idaho presidential caucus and award delegates to Ron Paul, Sen. Paul's father.

Romney, with 62 percent of the vote, won all 32 Idaho delegates to the Republican National Convention. Paul finished third, slightly behind Santorum, with 18 percent.

At the time, Davidson said, "I'll do the scorched earth if I have to" in his effort to overturn the result.

But when the Ron Paul campaign learned of the plan, campaign manager John Tate issued a statement saying Paul wanted no part of ill-gotten gains.

"In Idaho, isolated instances of grass-roots activists working toward an ostensible 'hostile takeover' of the GOP are not sanctioned by the Ron Paul national campaign," Tate said. "Therefore, (the campaign) condemns efforts to expand its influence in the Republican Party in Idaho and beyond when these activities are couched as vengeful...or markedly distasteful."

Davidson, of Garden City, is in the thick of this year's push to disqualify 102 Ada County delegates loyal to Otter, about one-sixth of the convention. Friday's decision to bar the delegates by the Peterson-controlled Credentials Committee must be ratified, rejected or modified by the full convention Saturday, with Labrador presiding.

Labrador said late Friday that he's crafting a compromise, telling The Associated Press, "We're weaker when we're divided. After the primaries, we should focus on unity. I'm working on that right now."

The general session of the convention is set to begin at 10:30 a.m. Mountain Time. On the docket are reports from the Credentials, Rules, Platform and Resolutions committees and the election of a chairman.

As convention chairman, Labrador chose as his parliamentarian former Bonner County Commissioner Cornell Rasor, Northwest regional director of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a libertarian-leaning group.

As the Saturday session began, Labrador offered an olive branch to the establishment wing, adding a second parliamentarian — Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis of Idaho Falls. Davis has served as chairman of the convention and parliamentarian in several conventions, including the 2008 meeting in Sandpoint when Otter's choice for party chairman was unseated. That loss for Otter marked the beginning of the right-center battles that have yet to be resolved.