From Bryan Fischer, Idaho Values Alliance
The fitness of Kirk Sullivan to continue as the chairman of the Idaho Republican Party has again been called into question by late-breaking developments in the primary campaign for legislative seats in District 21.
These races featured conservative incumbent legislators – Sen. Russ Fulcher, Rep. Cliff Bayer, and Rep. John Vander Woude – facing off against challengers Steve Ricks, Jefferson West, and Richard Jarvis. The same troika of challengers spent $2,000 on an Idaho Statesman ad attacking Idaho Chooses Life for endorsing the incumbents, falsely accusing ICL’s Executive Director, David Ripley, of implying that they hold pro-abortion views.
Last week, a form letter, written on official party letterhead, was mailed widely in District 21, arriving in mailboxes on Wednesday or Thursday, and giving the distinct impression that the Republican Party had officially endorsed the challengers in those hotly contested races.
No less than three times the incumbents are smeared as members of the “good old boy” network and the reader is bludgeoned no less than nine times – nine! – with the phrase “special interests” to imply that it was the party’s official position that Fulcher, Bayer and Vander Woude are in the bag for powerful lobbyists.
Although each letter was identical in content, different committeemen signed them, apparently sending the letters to party members in their own precincts, thus giving the impression that they had written the letter themselves. According to the note at the bottom of each letter, the mailing was “gladly paid (for) by the Ricks for Senator Committee.”
Sullivan was immediately contacted by concerned party members, and by candidates whose fortunes would be directly affected by the false impression created by the letter. However, Sullivan failed to return phone calls for four days, and then weakly promised only that he would look into the matter. (An IVA phone call to Sullivan’s office yesterday was not returned.)
According to one source, Sullivan claimed on Saturday that he did not know how to get hold of Mr. Ricks, even though his home and work numbers were accessible in seconds via the internet. By then, of course, it was too late to protect the integrity of the electoral process.
Tuesday evening, Sullivan made vague noises about initiating legal action against those who misrepresented the party by sending the letter, but the threat appears to be empty and toothless saber rattling on his part.
Contrast this with Mr. Sullivan’s actions 2 Â½ years ago, when a similar missive had left some with the impression that the party was endorsing Brandi Swindell in her run for a seat on the Boise City Council. He wasted no time in issuing a public clarification, distancing the Party from Ms. Swindell’s campaign so fast it’d give you a nose bleed.
Yet in this case, he dithered around for four days and then did nothing, despite the fact that the false impression created by the letter was likely to have a material impact on a campaign.
While Fulcher and Bayer survived their primary challenges, Sullivan’s failure to take decisive clarifying action likely cost John Vander Woude his seat in the legislature. Vander Woude lost his race against Jarvis by a scant 55 votes, and it is entirely possible that enough primary voters were influenced by the deceptive nature of the letter into thinking that Vander Woude was being officially opposed by his own party.
If only 28 voters changed their minds about Vander Woude based on the letter, that would have been enough to deny him a seat that should rightfully be his.
Add to this that any number of Democrats, crossing over to vote against Bill Sali (the runner-up in that race, Matt Salisbury, got an astonishing 8,000 votes more than Walt Minnick) may well have decided to create mischief in other races as long as they were meddling with the GOP ballot.
Vander Woude had a solid voting record as a pro-life, pro-family conservative during his one term in office, and thus this underhanded tactic has likely deprived Idaho families of a consistent and dependable voice and vote on social issues.
Sali’s race makes it abundantly clear that it is harmful to the prospects of conservative Republicans for the party to hold open primaries. The rank-and-file members of the GOP recognize this, and have forced the party establishment to move toward closed primaries whether they want to or not.
Sullivan has fought the grassroots on the primary issue every step of the way, and the results from District 21, ending in the unseating of a social conservative, will only foment further unrest among the already agitated GOP grassroots.
Word on the street is that the Central Committee in Twin Falls cast a unanimous no-confidence vote in Sullivan’s leadership and similar no-confidence votes are scheduled for or have already been held in Cassia and Minidoka counties, among others. The floor seems to be falling out from under the current chairman.
Sullivan will face a challenge for party chairmanship at the state convention next month, and this District 21 debacle is certainly not going to help his chances. The party elites have rallied around Sullivan, and have used heavy-handed pressure in a number of ways to boost his chances of re-election.
But the natives are restless, and the current alternative, Rod Beck, who is leading the charge to close the GOP primaries, has repeatedly locked horns with the party elites over the issue and would be the establishment’s worst nightmare.
One possible outcome? The party elites, seeing the handwriting on the wall, may ask Sullivan to step aside and appeal to Norm Semanko to step forward as a compromise candidate. Beck is prepared to support Semanko’s bid for the post, but Semanko, out of a concern for party unity, has put his plans to run for the chairmanship on hold.
Semanko is universally well-liked, and if the party is looking for a unifier in the wake of unhappiness with Sullivan’s leadership, Semanko may be just the man for the job.
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