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Yates to continue leading Idaho GOP

Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates speaks to delegates June 3, 2016, during the afternoon session of the third day of Idaho GOP Party Convention in Nampa.

NAMPA • Idaho Republicans ended their state convention Saturday by sticking with their old chairman and trying to rally around the presidential candidate who didn’t have the support of many of the attendees when the primary season started.

While the delegates did approve six resolutions that the Resolutions Committee signed off on Friday, they blocked efforts to change the party platform, meaning the document has gone unchanged since 2012.

While a 272-214 majority of delegates wanted to consider the Platform Committee’s report, a two-thirds majority was needed to suspend rules to take up the platform, since the timing of the May primary and the state and national conventions meant that none of the proposed amendments could have be made by the deadlines set in state party rules.

This year’s state convention was held about two weeks earlier than usual, to meet a June 3 deadline set by the national party to name delegates to the national convention. However, delegates to the state convention can’t be named until the results of the May primaries are canvassed. As a result, the delegates couldn’t be named and get proposed platform changes in by the deadline of 12 days before the convention set in state party rules.

Jared Larsen, a Burley resident and delegate who was on the Platform Committee, said he had wanted to remove planks in the current platform calling for a return to the gold standard and the repeal of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides for the popular election of U.S. senators. These planks, Larsen thinks, don’t have much support among the wider population of Republicans, even if they may be supported by many of the people who become convention delegates.

The Platform Committee reaffirmed its support of these Thursday, and approved new policies arguing that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and climate change is because of God and not humans, according to the Associated Press. Larsen said that, since the platform couldn’t be fully debated, he and others thought it would be better not to take up the recommendations of the Platform Committee,

“There were a lot of people who felt we should be fully debating those planks,” he said.

However, the delegates did vote to adopt six resolutions calling on lawmakers to take actions such as refusing to implement the Obama administration’s guidelines on letting transgender schoolchildren use the bathroom they identify with, amending the state Constitution to allow for the use of the Bible in public schools for academically related purposes, and call a special session before the November election to change the law so people who register to vote at the polls cast provisional ballots which would only be counted after their registrations are processed.

As for the chairman vote, Steve Yates, who was named to the job at a special central committee meeting in August 2014 after a court ruled that Barry Peterson was no longer chairman after the 2014 convention fell apart, was elected by a convention for the first time. He beat challenges from Kathy Sims, a Republican lawmaker from Coeur d’Alene who recently lost her primary bid for re-election, and Mike Duff, a sheep farmer from Blackfoot.

The incumbents were re-elected, generally over challengers associated with the party’s more conservative wing, for other party offices. Mike Mathews, of Twin Falls, beat a challenge from Bryan Smith, an Idaho Falls political figure, for first vice chairman. Cindy Siddoway was re-elected national committeewoman over Janice McGeachin, and Damond Watkins was unopposed for re-election as national committeeman. Chris Harriman was re-elected treasurer, beating Maria Nate, and Marla Lawson was re-elected secretary over Shannon McMillan, who like Sims, is a right-wing lawmaker from northern Idaho who recently lost to a primary challenger. For second vice chairman, a position where incumbent Jim Pierce didn’t run again, Tyler Hurst of Star beat Jennifer Locke of Kootenai County.

As delegates inside voted on party officers, a group wearing III Percenter garb gathered outside the convention center, some holding American flags or signs expressing support for LaVoy Finicum, the rancher who was killed by authorities during the Malheur standoff. They refused to talk to reporters, blaming the Times-News specifically.

Members of the group have, in the past, expressed displeasure with a story that ran more than 10 months ago, when they and members of groups like the Oath Keepers were guarding military recruitment centers in the aftermath of the Chattanooga shooting. The 500-word story contained two paragraphs quoting a sergeant who said he had received an email from his command saying the Oath Keepers are an anti-government group.

Saturday was the last day of the three-day convention, which went off much more amicably than the 2014 convention, where delegates couldn’t agree even on seating delegates and adjourned without conducting any business. Many of Saturday’s speakers looked forward to the presidential race, stressing the need to support Donald Trump, who came in a distant second in the Idaho primary and who had virtually no declared support among the Idaho political establishment before Ted Cruz dropped out and he became the party’s presumptive nominee.

“I jokingly say Trump wasn’t even in my top 16,” U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who was a Rand Paul and then a Cruz backer during the primary, said to the crowd at lunch. Labrador immediately followed this by saying he backs Trump now.

Again and again, the elected officials and others who spoke stressed that, if Trump wins, he will likely appoint a conservative Supreme Court judge to the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia.

“Doesn’t that make the choice pretty obvious?” Yates said.

Yates also condemned the attacks on Trump supporters by protesters at an event on Thursday in San Jose, Calif., and said Trump has been “appealing to a whole group of people that we as a party have not been successful in recent years in engaging.”

Labrador said Trump would make some good choices, and “others not so good,” but he would ensure Republicans keep the Supreme Court. He appealed to anyone in the crowd who knows Trump or has influence with him to urge the candidate to focus on the issues that unite the party rather than attacking people.

The keynote speaker at lunch was Buck Sexton, a conservative radio host and political commentator and former Cruz supporter who spoke of the need to back Trump so Clinton doesn’t win. Sexton focused first on what he views as Clinton’s flaws, and then on Trump, saying his blunt style and willingness to say what others won’t offers “a necessary antidote.”

Sexton said conservatives can’t afford four years of Clinton in the White House, since she could change America irreversibly. Society is changing quickly, he said, “and if you oppose that you are now considered a bigot.”

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