The Constitution Party of Idaho voted to break off from the national Constitution Party Saturday following several years of contentious relations between the two organizations.
Turnout for the state party’s annual convention in Mountain Home was modest, but leaders spoke optimistically of party growth, particularly among young voters.
There are 2,946 registered Constitution Party members in Idaho in 2018, up substantially from 395 in 2012.
Delegates said they hoped opening up their presidential primary to independent voters would help grow the party further. Those in attendance voted unanimously Saturday to open up the primary in 2020.
“It could give us that potential for name recognition,” said Anthony Tompkins, a delegate from Twin Falls and candidate for the state legislature in District 24. “They’ll see that name and they’ll possibly get behind that name.”
A more controversial question — whether to disaffiliate from the national Constitution Party — was also decided unanimously.
A longstanding dispute between the state and national parties stemmed from disagreement over the best method for selecting national party nominees, state chairman Floyd Whitley said. The national party relies on a proxy voting system through a selection committee.
Whitley and other delegates at the convention said they are opposed to proxies and feel that national candidates should be chosen by the voters with direct citizen ballots.
“What the national party is attempting to orchestrate is a theocracy, a flat-out theocracy,” Whitley said in an interview after the vote. “They believe that they are ordained and they believe they can rule by their own conscience.”
Tompkins and fellow legislative candidate Tony Ullrich, who is seeking a House seat in District 23, voiced support for disaffiliating from the national party.
Tompkins said he thought the Idaho party should focus on getting statewide and local candidates into office — a more realistic goal, he said, than electing a Constitution Party president.
“If we vest our interests instead into our county, state and local elected offices, we will better represent our party and build the party,”Tompkins said.
Western region chairman J.R. Myers, acting as a spokesman from the national party, was the only person at the convention to speak in favor of remaining affiliated. He urged delegates to consider the optics of breaking away from the national organization and reminded attendees they would no longer have a voice in national party matters.
“If we continue to show ourselves as fragmented and full of division and strife…it will lead to a discrediting of not just our party, but our ideology, too,” Myers said.
Ullrich said he felt the negatives of staying with the national party outweighed the positives.
“A lot of the arguments that were brought up for staying were, ‘It gives us credibility,’” Ullrich said. “But in all actuality, when you’re looking at someone who’s showing no integrity or respect or love for our party, how is it giving us anything?”
After the vote, Myers said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” at the outcome.
“It’s frustrating when you don’t have the cooperation you think you need from the national organization and I think that’s what was expressed here today,” Myers said. “I think with the national organization there’s a certain inertia and things take time, more time than anybody would like. We’re an organization in flux.”
Frank Fluckiger, national chairman of the Constitution Party, said in a phone interview that the decision came “as no surprise at all”to him.
“I don’t think it was a wise move, but that was long expected,” Fluckiger said.
Whitley said he didn’t foresee the break from the national party having a significant effect on the Idaho party’s platform or priorities.
“If any focus is going to change, it’s going to remove what is a hemorrhage of capital going to the national party, and all of that can be redirected into state policy, procedure, politics, and candidates,” Whitley said. “Because really and truly, if we’re going to build a lasting structure,it’s going to be that way.”