TWIN FALLS, Idaho • Running for office as a Republican could become more contentious in the next few months if a proposed rule change gets the state GOP endorsement Saturday.
Under the controversial proposal, a candidate would have to get GOP leaders’ approval in order to get his name on the Republican primary ballot.
The proposal is only one of many changes to be debated at the Republican Party Central Committee’s summer meeting in McCall on Friday and Saturday.
Yet of all the rules to be discussed, this change is receiving the strongest opposition from Magic Valley Republican politicians.
“This is a bad idea,” said Steve Millington, Twin Falls County GOP chairman. “I can understand to some extent why they want to do this. If you want to win in Idaho, you best not run as a Democrat. You run as a Republican ... They want people on the ballot that are bona fide Republicans.“
Region 4 Republican Chairman Rod Beck, who submitted the proposal, said the change would weed out candidates not fit for office or those who didn’t uphold GOP party ideology on a county, state and congressional level.
“I think it’s needed to make the party more meaningful, more accountable and more transparent,” he said. “I’ve been supporting this type of system for a number of years.“
State Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, disagrees. He said voters should be able to choose who is fit for office.
The proposal goes a “step too far,“ he said. “I feel strongly that restricting access to primaries in this way is not only inappropriate, but it’s harmful to the party. Voters have shown repeatedly that they can choose.“
Twin Falls County GOP members caught wind last month of a resolution being drafted to require all Republican candidates to receive caucus approval before they could be placed on a primary ballot. Members quickly submitted a resolution to the central committee combating the idea. Their resolution will be considered Saturday.
Rather than submit a resolution, however, Beck submitted a rule change calling for primary candidates to obtain not caucus approval, but rather endorsement from local central committee leaders.
Now Twin Falls County GOP members are circulating a letter explaining why Beck’s change would damage the Idaho Republican Party. They are collecting signatures of support from politicians across the state, said Grant Loebs, Twin Falls County prosecutor and GOP chairman of District 24.
“You have a primary, then you have a closed primary, then you have a caucus system, and then you have the most restrictive thing I’ve ever seen, which is what this is proposing,” Loebs said.
State Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, also said the proposal is troubling.
“These are good people in the central committee, but why would they want that responsibility?” she asked. “And why would they take that from the people? It’s troubling to think of putting that kind of power in so few.“
State Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, said that if the proposal passes, Idaho could face a situation similar to Utah’s. In 2010, the Utah Republican Convention denied a spot on the primary ballot to state Sen. Bob Bennett, though he had held office for almost 20 years and received the endorsement of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. That policy remains intact in Utah.
“Bob Bennett had the seniority and all of a sudden, his name is no longer on the ballot,” Heider said. “That is a terrible way to select candidates. You should allow citizens to determine who the candidates are going to be. That’s the way we’ve traditionally done it.”