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The new Republican geography

On June 13 the Idaho Republican Party will hold its biennial convention at Coeur d’Alene, and the delegates to it will decide on a number of things, including resolutions, a platform and party leadership.

Those decisions have been playing an increasingly central role in Idaho government, so they matter.

It might, or might not.

Marco Erickson, a Republican state representative from Idaho Falls, evidently is in the “it will” category, and his reasons are understandable and based on personal experience.

Party officials on the state, and in many places, county level have in the last few years gotten into the business of critiquing votes on legislation and even specific debates and statements by Republican legislators, calling them on the carpet, censuring and even threatening them with a loss of party support, in ways the party has never done in Idaho. It hasn’t happened everywhere around the state, but it has in many places.

Erickson was among those legislators criticized by his local Republican organization. He rebuffed the party actions, and has prevailed: This month he won his contested primary election and a precinct committeeman seat, which makes him a party official. He was one of a bunch of Republican legislators in the Bonneville County area where that happened. On top of that, the roster of precinct officials changed too.

Speaking of state Republican Chair Dorothy Moon, Erickson told writer Chuck Malloy, “She will not be returning as the party’s chairwoman, and I think she knows that … Every candidate they have endorsed in the last two years has lost, with the exception of one state race. In Bonneville County, voters paid attention to the negativity they were spreading, and they didn’t like it.”

Bonneville County is likely to raise major objections to the party leadership’s direction.

But what about the rest of the state?

Overall, 15 incumbent Republican legislators lost their primaries. A few of those who lost were aligned with GOP leadership but most were not. The Magic Valley legislative roster saw a sharp turn to the right, and determined and strong efforts against some of the party-aligned members in places like Nampa, Middleton, Mountain Home and Moscow-Lewiston all fell short.

I’ve seen no reports yet on how the Republican precinct committee contests statewide – and there were an unusual number this year – have shaken out. But if they reflect at all the results in legislative races, as seems likely, then what’s emerging may be this:

A geographic mottling of different kinds of Republicans prevailing in different parts of the state, sometimes in hard to predict locations. The Idaho Falls area may be a geographic center of some of the resistance. Other regions may run more in the other direction.

In the panhandle, Kootenai County shows signs of sticking with its hard right, but the Bonner-Boundary area seems more conflicted, as does Latah-Nez Perce. The Magic Valley seems to have taken a sharp turn toward the right; Canyon County may have too.

Why is Idaho Falls reacting as it has? Maybe the fact that its party organization has more visibly and enthusiastically than in most places gone after its legislators for a lack of platform purity – thereby generating an angry reaction – was a factor. If so, then only time may be needed for similar dynamics to rise up elsewhere.

Last December, Erickson seemed to envision as much: He speculated the party actions against legislators in Bonneville County, “wakes up people to the idea of why they need to run as precinct officers. We need to have rational people in there and civil discourse again.”

A new Republican geography may be on the rise. And we may see it reflected at the state convention in Coeur d’Alene.

 

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