State Politics

Idaho Democrats endorse move to presidential primary

Democratic delegates for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders gather in Boise, Idaho

The first day of the Idaho Democratic Convention to adopt the party platform was held at the Riverside Hotel
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The first day of the Idaho Democratic Convention to adopt the party platform was held at the Riverside Hotel

Idaho Democrats could ditch their problematic presidential caucus and join state Republicans in adopting a primary instead, following a vote by party rank-and-file Saturday.

A resolution endorsing the change won easy approval from the nearly 400 delegates at the party’s state convention at Boise’s Riverside Hotel. The vote instructs the party’s state committee to explore options for a selection process “at least as inclusive” as a primary.

Conventioneers were working Saturday evening to wrap up final business by adopting the party platform, electing delegates to the party’s national convention, and picking national committee members.

Occasionally disorganized and often divided, the three-day meeting saw passionate but largely civil debate among members of a state party working to embrace a broad spectrum that, based on the March caucus, has moved left politically.

The vote on the election format change comes after huge turnout at the party’s March caucus caused significant delays and other logistical problems. More than 9,000 people overwhelmed the Ada County venue at the Boise Centre and adjacent CenturyLink Arena. While most tolerated up to two-hour delays to enter, hundreds of others gave up and left.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders overwhelmed Hillary Clinton in the March 22 caucus, winning by a nearly 4-1 margin.

Republicans, who experienced their own own caucus problems in 2012, move to the primary format this year. Earlier, in 2015, they pushed through the Legislature a move to hold a standalone presidential primary in March, two months before the state’s regular May primaries.

Critics objected to the $2 million cost of another statewide election, borne by the taxpayers. But the primary format is seen as fairer and more inclusive than a caucus.

“It’s a really reasonable thing for the delegates to be talking about,” state Chairman Bert Marley said. “We do want to do a deep dive into this and see how we can handle it best.”

Republicans, he said, have made the presidential primary in Idaho a “done deal.”

“A lot people say, ‘Well we’re going to be paying for it anyhow. We might as well be using it, too.’ ”

The change needs the endorsement of state and national party officials. If would take effect in 2020 if approved.

The huge Sanders victory in March meant a dominant Sanders presence at the convention and many new delegates, more than half attending a convention for the first time. The three days saw frequent delays over parliamentary procedure and logistics as participants found their convention footing, as well as extended debates over resolutions and platform planks.

Sanders supporters in some cases pushed omnibus resolutions and sweeping changes that more centrist delegates feared would alienate moderate voters in a state dominated by Republicans.

“Values unite, policies divide,” Rep. John Rusche of Lewiston, the House minority leader, said during Friday’s platform discussion. “If we focus on specific policy issues, we will drive a stake through the heart of the Idaho Democrats and their attempts to enact policy in this state.”

Marley, himself a Sanders superdelegate, said the candidate’s supporters, though committed to his agenda, were equally committed “to go beyond that, to start to work with the (state) party.”

“These under-30-year-olds, they’re just beginning to engage,” he said. “What gives me a lot of encouragement is they’re passionate, but they’re also willing to say, ‘We’re in this for the long haul.’”

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD

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