BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republicans aiming to run for governor, the Idaho Legislature or even county coroner may first have to win approval from GOP leaders, according to a proposed internal party rule change that's arisen following the 2013 Legislature's hotly-debated vote for a state-based insurance exchange.
Idaho's secretary of state would put only candidates on the GOP primary ballot that had previously secured their party leaders' blessing. The plan is slated for consideration Friday and Saturday at the Republican Party Central Committee's meeting in Donnelly.
Numerous other rule changes are also on the docket, including a proposal to single out GOP lawmakers for voting in a way that "contradicts the Republican ideals." They could be punished with withdrawal of financial support, according to that proposal.
The push to require candidates to be vetted by Republican leaders before they're allowed on the ballot comes from Region 4 Republican Chairman Rod Beck. He's among those who believe elected GOP officials often ignore their party leaders, such as when many Republican lawmakers and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter backed a state-based insurance exchange in March. It passed after more than 15 hours of combined debate.
The Idaho Republican Central Committee opposed the exchange, a battle front that saw intense efforts by Idaho insurers, including Blue Cross of Idaho and Regence Blue Shield, to have it passed over objections from foes who contended, among other things, that it sacrificed Idaho's sovereignty to the federal government and President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
"What I envision is, our local precinct committee people will become more important to legislators than the lobbyists at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, or other Boise-based lobbyists," Beck said.
Beck, a former Idaho Senate majority leader, was previously among the major proponents of Idaho's closed GOP primary election, which took effect in 2012.
With this plan, the state Central Committee would vet state and federal candidates; legislative District committees would review legislative candidates; and county GOP committees would approve local candidates.
Already, however, opponents of Beck's plan are organizing ahead of the meetings at McCall Donnelly High School in Valley County, where GOP insiders will help set the party's direction.
In a draft letter, lawmakers, including House Speaker Scott Bedke, said it would put candidate selections in the hands of people inside "the smoke filled room."
Other elected officials whose names were on a copy of the letter obtained by The Associated Press include Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; Sen. Lee Heider and Reps. Steve Hartgen and Jim Patrick of Twin Falls; Sen. Dean Cameron of Rupert; Rep. Maxine Bell of Jerome; and Rep. Fred Wood of Burley, among others.
"Please join us at the upcoming Central Committee Meeting in McCall in defeating this elitist proposal," they wrote.
The letter is due to be sent to state GOP officials on Wednesday, so they'll have it when they arrive in Donnelly.
Bedke, who sided with Otter on the insurance exchange on the grounds that it gives Idaho more power than would a federally-run online insurance marketplace for individuals and small businesses, worries such a rule would put GOP candidate selection in the hands of a few ideologically-motivated, activist GOP leaders motivated by narrow issues.
"It's the insurance exchange this year, it'll be something else next year," Bedke said. "It's unhealthy for the party. It disenfranchises Republican voters. Your choice of who is on the ballot will be made by a very limited number of Republicans, not Republicans at large."