Fifty years ago this summer, a group of very conservative Idaho Republicans put into motion a series of events destined to turn the direction of the Idaho Republican far to the right. It began at the 1963 state Republican convention with the election Gwen Barnett as Idaho’s Republican national committeewoman. At the time she was the youngest member of the national committee.
The following year the party nominated Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater to be its presidential standard bearer. It was a conservative revolution for the party and one that had disastrous consequences when Goldwater lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson.
Barnett had become a close ally of the Goldwater forces. Her friend Dean Burch, a former member of the Goldwater Senate staff, had been elected Republican national chairman. She was also close to such rising conservative stars as John Tower, who had become the first Republican elected to the senate from Texas since Reconstruction.
Following Goldwater’s defeat, Idaho Governor Robert Smylie, as chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association and a leading party moderate, led efforts to purge the party of Burch and others. Barnett responded by embarking on a personal crusade to purge Smylie from the party by defeating him when he ran for re-election in 1966. Her candidate became Don Samuelson, a three-term state senator from Sandpoint. Samuelson was a staunch conservative who, while serving a generally lackluster single term as Governor, helped to solidify the conservative element of the state party into the party’ driving force. He also helped to ensure that the Democrats, led by Cecil Andrus, would capture the governorship in 1970 for the first time in a quarter century.
Now fast forward fifty years to the 2013 legislative session. The defeat on the Senate floor of the public school appropriations bill on an 18-17 vote has been viewed by some legislative observers as being unprecedented. Not true. The last time this happened was in 1992, and it happened several times in the 1980s. The real story is not the actual defeat of the bill, but the driving forces behind the defeat.
In recent years the Senate has always been considered the moderate check against the more conservative forces in the House. But as of 2013, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Actually, the swing had begun in 2010 when then Senator Joe Stegner, a GOP moderate, was defeated in his effort to be re-elected Republican assistant majority leader by conservative Senator Chuck Winder. (more…)