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OPINION: Power vs. Base

by BRENT REGAN/Common Sense
| July 7, 2023 1:00 AM

“Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage.” — Roger Walters, Pink Floyd

Because of mining, ranching, farming and timber, 50 years ago Idaho was a solid blue state. But as the Democrats made a hard shift to identity politics, they left Idaho behind. Now Idaho is seen as a conservative sanctuary, not because it has become more conservative but because states like California, Oregon and Washington have moved radically left.

As the progressive Democrat train left the station, many Idaho politicians simply stepped off the train and onto the platform — the Republican platform. They traded their blue jackets for red and ran as Republicans while still governing as they had been: as Democrats.

This worked for a while but slowly it became obvious that not all Republicans governed as Republicans and in 2009 the Idaho Freedom Foundation started the Freedom Index as a way to measure legislators’ performance. The Index scores bills on 12 metrics, and assigns each bill a value which then is added to the cumulative score of a legislator if they vote for that bill.

Because of the Freedom Index it was quickly discovered that the legislator that voted most often for more spending, more regulation, more government and less freedom was a Republican from Sandpoint. This Republican was to the left of all the Democrats in the legislature. Sandpoint voters were shocked because the political rhetoric coming from this legislator was solid conservative. They talked the talk in Sandpoint but when it came to voting in Boise they didn’t walk the walk.

Good information leads to good decisions and good decisions meant that fewer Democrats and liberal Republicans were elected each cycle, but they didn’t go without a fight. Idaho’s open primary allowed anyone to vote for the Republican nominee. Imagine if Vandals fans were able to vote for who would be the Bengals’ quarterback. Republicans should be allowed to pick their own nominee to run against the other candidates in the general election.

A 2011 court decision closed the Republican primary so only affiliated Republicans could vote for the Republican nominee. This triggered the progressives who shrieked that this disenfranchised voters who WANTED to vote in the Republican primary while also claiming that crossover voting wasn’t happening. If crossover voting wasn’t happening then closing the primary should have no effect…but it did.

In the following election cycles the closed primary effectively blocked most Republican In Name Only (RINO) candidates from winning their primary contests. This didn’t stop them from trying. As late as 2022 a Democrat party county treasurer ran for the legislature as a Republican…and lost.

The closed primary was not enough to overcome the advantages of the power that comes from incumbency. Incumbents win ~80% of the time and are typically only replaced when they retire or run for higher office. The effect was that the party stratified into two groups: Power and Base. The Power group held the leadership positions in the legislature and constitutional offices. Some refer to them as “RINOS” or “Establishment” but their defining characteristic is their fondness for big government and spending. Our allegedly “red” Idaho behaved an awfully lot like a blue state during the pandemic.

The Base group is just that: the grassroots base of the party who are average Idahoans shocked by events that pose an existential threat and feel the need to do something to save our Republic. For their efforts they are called “extremist” or “racist” although I have never met a conservative who fits either epithet. The Republican Base is patriotic, God fearing, socially and economically conservative. They have had their tolerance rewarded with the progressives going too far. The Kellogg High School senior who was denied commencement for stating a biological fact is just the most recent of abuses suffered.

In 2020, the Idaho Republican party was almost evenly split with the Power group having a razor thin advantage. This changed at the 2022 state convention when the Base overwhelmingly won leadership positions. The Power faction was not happy and attempted a walkout to force a quorum call. It didn’t work.

Stripped of party leadership the Power faction began to show their true nature and quickly aligned with their roots — the Democrats, to maintain majority control in the statehouse. They characterized any attempt to protect the Republican brand by vetting candidates as “immoral” and attempted to pass rules that would quash the First Amendment rights of Precinct Committeemen.

While we cannot know what is in the heart of another, the “accidental” loss of the Presidential Primary seems mighty convenient if you wanted to embarrass party leadership. At this summer’s IDGOP meeting, the Power faction was pushing for a Presidential Primary Convention as that would make the IDGOP look like it was intentionally trying to disenfranchise the voters. The Base chose the much harder path of having a caucus in every county to allow as many Republicans to participate in the Presidential Primary as possible.

It is said that if you want to test someone’s character you give them power. It seems a further test is when you take power away.

The Republican Party Base, the precinct committeemen elected by their neighbors, is standing up to right our ship of state. We should celebrate their involvement. We need it for our Republic to survive.

It’s just common sense.

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Brent Regan is chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee and chair of the Idaho Freedom Foundation Board of Directors.