Do you know who your Republican Party Elmore County precinct committeeman is?
You should. There's a possibility he's about to become one of the most powerful people in the state.
This weekend, the state's Republican Party executive committee and the state central committee will meet in McCall to discuss, among other things, a set of proposed rules that the Idaho Association of Counties says "will significantly alter the way Republican candidates are placed on a primary election ballot."
In effect, any candidate who wants to run on the Republican Party ticket for a county office -- specifically commissioner, assessor, clerk, sheriff and treasurer -- would have to be approved first by the county's GOP central committee. For legislative, state and federal offices, the GOP district and state committee would have to approve the names.
Two years ago, the Republican Party closed its primary. You now have to be a registered Republican to vote in the primary.
Remember, with the collapse of the Democratic Party in Idaho in the early 1990s, the Republican Primary is the only election that really counts in 90 percent of the races in Idaho. The state Democratic Party is an incompetent joke. Any qualified Democrats who seek office and win do so virtually without and sometimes despite their party.
The state Republican Party in recent years has, barely, survived efforts from some of its more right wing membership to: 1) return the state to the silver standard and require merchants to accept raw silver as payment; 2) repeal direct election of U.S. senators and give it to the legislature to decide who those representatives would be; 3) require loyalty oaths of its candidates requiring them to embrace the entire state party platform.
Keep in mind, almost no candidate for state or federal office (from either party) ever endorses their party platforms in their entirety. They're largely ignored by both party's candidates during the campaigns. The platforms often contain some plank that is truly outrageous, slipped in by more radical elements of a party that the candidates themselves would normally have nothing to do with. There's a reason for that, and it begins with the local county precinct committeemen.
People who run for committeemen have a tendency to be passionately committed. They tend to be drawn from the more extreme wings of their parties (very, very liberal for the Democrats, very, very conservative for the Republicans). That's a general statement. There are good, moderate committeemen who hold offices as well, but it's not unusual for the more radical elements to dominate. This is easy to do when committeemen often are elected by a dozen voters or less. In fact, it's actually rare for any races for committeemen to even have a challenge in them.
The local committee is a good example. Geoff Schroeder, a moderate Republican, actually ran a challenge and got elected. But he was often in the minority, with the majority much more conservative, and the committee named the man he beat in the election as his proxy if he didn't show up. In fact, they tried to throw him out of the party because he wasn't conservative enough. Carleen Lord was another good, solid conservative party member who threw up her hands as a precinct committeewoman at the increasing right wing bent of the local committee.
Last month, the Elmore County Republican Central Committee endorsed a proposal that was straight out of the basic philosophy of the infamous extreme right wing Posse Comitatus organization.
Posse Comitatus was founded in 1969 by former "Silver Shirt" Nazi Henry L. Beach. The group believes there is no legitimate form of government above the county level and no higher law enforcement authority than the county sheriff. Sheriffs should not only have the power, but be required, to arrest state and federal officials who come into the county to impose laws, regulations or other government controls that the Posse members determine to be "illegal."
This is not a position normally embraced by your average, sound-thinking Republican.
But it was the position that the local central committee endorsed. The same group that, if the state's GOP leaders -- who come from central committees like this -- decide to change their rules this weekend, would be vetting who our candidate for sheriff would be (and other county offices).
It's one thing for a county central committee to go a little amok. Happens all the time in both parties simply because, as explained above, it's the nature of the beast. It's another to let those people have real power and decide who your candidates are going to be.
Increasingly, the Idaho GOP leadership seems determined to limit your choices at the ballot box because they're afraid the "wrong" person might get elected. The move to repeal direct election of senators, for example, was because that leadership detests Sen. Mike Crapo, a popular moderate Republican who is rising into the ranks of the power elite in Washington, D.C. There are members of the GOP leadership in Idaho who believe that since the voters keep electing Crapo, the only way to get rid of him is to take that power away from the voters.
The Republican Party is suffering from a certain radicalization right now. Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, a highly respected U.S. senator in his day, contended the other day that Ronald Reagan couldn't get the nomination of his own party today -- because he would be too liberal!
Unfortunately, Dole was probably right. In order to get the nomination, the two most recent GOP candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, had to play to the far right during the primary. Then, they had to try and shift positions (their more natural ones) toward the moderately conservative center of the voting public for the general election. But the things they'd said to appease the right wing of their party and get the nomination simply became "flip flop" fodder for the Obama party machine. That problem has given us eight years of Obama. Dole's right, that has got to change. The party has got to realize, he correctly pointed out, that the county has changed and it is no longer going to be run exclusively by WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) males.
If the state GOP leadership continues to move to the right, and considering there is no other effective party in Idaho available to stand in serious opposition at the polls in order to counterbalance any move in that direction, Idaho could easily start to make Texas look liberal.
We can only hope that sanity will prevail at the state meeting this week, and this proposal to make obscure precinct committeemen the major deciding factor in local politics will be rejected.