"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

GGMichigan, Romney of MA, and Idaho

Those around Idaho politics in the 80s and early 90s when Gary Glenn was a substantial figure in Republican circles, may be interested to follow his latest lines of activity and subject of interest. They portend now as then matters of significance for Idaho and for Republican politics.

Governor Mitt RomneyThe subject at hand is Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican elected to that office in 2002 and now a presidential prospect for 2008. That latter point partially explains his appearance in Idaho Falls this weekend; some polling at the moment puts him in a rough third place nationally and in NewHampshire behind John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani. There’s also a secondary aspect, which is that Romney is a member of the LDS Church, with the idea that he may be in line to pick up heavy early support in places with substantial Mormon populations like Utah, Arizona, Colorado (which he also visited this weekend) and, of course, Idaho.

By most reports, Romney’s visit to the Idaho Republicans went well enough. But there’s an undertow here too, and it’s connected to an important piece of Idaho Republican politics. And Gary Glenn, long gone physically from Idaho but still quite connected, is somewhere approximately in the middle of it.

Gary GlennGlenn in Idaho and since has been an activist on various causes usually called “conservative.” (You see such descriptions as “extreme” or “ultra” conservative to describe him; we’ll eschew them as having little meaning these days. ) He was a leader of the Right to Work effort in Idaho in the mid-80s, then moved more toward the candidate side of politics, working on campaigns and eventually running himself for office, winning a seat on the Ada County Commission but becoming such an extremely contentious figure there that he actually lost the job in 1996 to a Democrat. A couple of years later he took a job at Michigan, and since 1999 he has been president of the American Family Association of Michigan. It lists as its key categories of interest “Abortion, eminent domain, Homosexual Agenda, AFL-CIO, Boy Scouts, Public Health, … marriage, … Public Schools and Universities, Religious Freedom, Religious Heritage.” Glenn’s focus appears to have moved from the economic to the social side of things.

He has not lost touch with Idaho, or with its Republican politics – which seems to have been moving steadily closer in his direction. He was evidently a major figure behind the Bill Sali campaign for Congress, which so far has netted the Republican nomination for the 1st District U.S. House seat. (Sali’s positioning as a contentious figure in the Idaho House mirrors Glenn’s own background in elective politics.) He has stayed in touch with Bryan Fischer, a minister who has been active on the Ten Commandments issue and on other similar topics, and also has been a key Sali supporter.

Now cut to the Republican state convention at Idaho Falls, and its key national speaker, Mitt Romney.

Romney’s religion was surely enough to excite some conservative Mormon Republicans in Idaho. But his track record back in Massachusetts ticked off some others. Fischer sent a letter to Idaho Republican Chair Kirk Sullivan, blasting the invitation to Romney: “I read with surprise that Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is scheduled to be a featured speaker at this year’s Republican state convention. Research the Idaho Values Alliance [Fischer’s organization] has done reveals that Mr. Romney holds views which are wildly out of alignment with the party’s own platform and with public policies that are best for Idaho’s families. We think Idaho citizens need to have this information.” The areas of concern involved Romney’s stances on abortion (largely pro-choice), gay rights (in favor of civil unions), the Boy Scouts (relating to an invitation not extended) and others. Those were, it should be noted, positions you’d ordinarily expect of a governor of Massachusetts.

The Fischer letter got some media attention around the state, but not only there: Because it was a shot at a leading national candidate for president in the heart of what should be his best initial base of support, it got attention in national Republican circles too.

Fischer posted his letter on the national Red State Republican blog, and there it drew a pile of comments, mainly criticisms from either Romney supporters or others who thought Fischer’s arguments were unfair or unfounded. The Fischer defense instead came from – that’s right – Gary Glenn.

He started out by minimizing his role: “over the next two years, every time someone new raises concerns about Romney’s disturbing pro-abortion, pro-homosexual agenda, pro-gun control record, am I going to get the credit? Even when other presidential candidates, who have far more resources for research than I, start talking about it, will it all be because of that bad guy from Michigan? Am I to blame for Romney’s record, or is Romney?”

But that cry of nonchalance follows an impressive record of posts. A quick search of his commentary on that site alone turns up dozens of comments on Romney, and they aren’t friendly. In one of his comments, he winds up – after spilling another bill of goods against Romney – with this provocative line: “When this stuff comes out more broadly than just a few posts on a blog, he’ll be toast among pro-family conservatives in the GOP primary.”

Let’s bring this back around to Idaho and to Bill Sali.

One of the hot points at the GOP convention was a proposal that Idaho Republican candidates be required to either endorse the state platform without reservation, or specifically cite which elements of it they disagree with – any such dissenters to be duly noted by the party. That proposal, reportedly backed by Sali, was passed in one convention committee before it died on the floor. (The floor leader in opposition to it was National Committeeman Blake Hall, a former state party chair who could never be called a RINO – not by anyone with a straight face; Hall’s concern clearly was about a proposal that could tear the party apart.) Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey noted that after he talked with Sali about it, the candidate returned to lunch with – that’s right – Bryan Fischer.

All of that occurred just around the same time that virtually the whole leadership of the party went well out of its way to visibly throw its support behind Sali.

These elements and incidents all are linked, and of one piece: The Sali campaign and the forces behind it is in considerable degree intended as a Republican effort at “purification,” at ridding the Idaho Republican Party of its Romneys (as well as its Sheila Sorensens). It does not include a majority of Idaho Republicans or even a majority of its party people or elected officials, but it does have a significant piece of them – maybe a third (to judge from the floor vote on the litmus-test proposal, which got 105 outof 283 floor votes).

In the hands of people like Fischer and Glenn, that can be enough to matter, to alter the political environment for a lot of people, including presidential candidates like Romney. Can be more than enough. As the Sali campaign evolves, we – and a lot of nervous Idaho Republicans – may find out just how much.

UPDATE: This post has been edited to correct several words of sloppy writing in the original version that conveyed an unintended impression – which was that Bryan Fischer’s letter to the Republican leadership was critical of Romney on the basis of Romney’s religion. As noted in the revised version above, it wasn’t.

From an e-mail to us from Bryan Fischer: “Randy, good factual piece overall, but how in the world do you justify this: ‘Romney’s religion was surely enough to excite some conservative Mormon Republicans in Idaho, but it ticked off some others. Fischer sent a letter to Idaho Republican Chair Kirk Sullivan, blasting the invitation to Romney.’ My letter made no mention or reference to Romney’s religion whatsoever. In fact, the Idaho Values Alliance board of directors includes a member of the LDS Church. What IVA’s letter did detail was Romney’s decade-long record of rhetorical support for abortion on demand and elements of homosexual activists’ political agenda, including his support for homosexual Scoutmasters — all of which are anathema to LDS social-cultural-moral values. This would have been a fair and accurate statement: ‘Romney’s religion was surely enough to excite some conservative Mormon Republicans in Idaho, but his record ticked off some others.’ As written, you falsely suggest religious bias as a motivation for IVA’s letter. That’s not only untrue but unfair. It is Romney’s record of support for abortion and homosexual Scoutmasters that is ‘anti-Mormon.’ In fairness, please publish an appropriate clarification.”

Fischer is correct; apologies and clarification are hereby tendered. We try for precision, but we missed on that one.

UPDATE 2: We also received this from Gary Glenn:

“Hi Randy, Hope you’re doing well. For the record, I’m an equal opportunity offender: McCainGiulianiRomneyAll three

Let it not be said Gary Glenn lacks a sense of humor. Or energy. Or an unwillingness to run on lesser-trod roads.

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