The Idaho Republican Party approved its new platform Saturday, but it almost didn't happen. Several delegates opposed much of the content of the newly-written platform and tried to kill all changes. The move was unsuccessful and the new platform, which calls for the repeal of the 17th Amendment and instills what amounts to a loyalty oath for Republican candidates, was adopted after several hours of discussion.
Delegates began work on the platform Friday in an open committee meeting. Changes made by committee members were presented to the body as a whole Saturday afternoon. Initially, convention-goers were given the choice to accept all the changes or none of them, which didn't sit well with some who were uncomfortable with some of the alterations. One delegate suggested that they scuttle the 2010 platform and re-adopt the 2008 to use in upcoming years. That move drew the ire of the majority of delegates, including state Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, who said he wanted the call for the repeal of the 17th Amendment to be in the party's ideals going forward. "This is too valuable to forget about," said Nielsen, who argued that repealing the amendment would give state's greater oversight of the federal government.
The amendment gave the general electorate the right to select U.S. senators, a power previously held by the state legislatures. Proponents of repeal, including many gathered at the GOP convention, believe that making senators accountable to state legislatures would end runaway federal spending and give states a say in the affairs of the federal government. Opponents of repeal say that it would put a layer of government and bureaucracy in between the people and their senators. Delegates approved adding the call for repeal to the platform despite opposition.
Going forward, Republican candidates on all levels - local, state, and national - may also see a loyalty oath when they declare their candidacy. Delegates agreed to adopt the change, engineered by GOP insider Rod Beck, which requires that candidates promise to serve according the other principles of the platform. If candidates decide they cannot live by all ideals in the platform, they are allowed to send the party chairman a list of which planks they disagree with and why the feel that way. The chairman would then publish the list of who agreed to the whole platform and the list of who had exceptions with parts of it. One state lawmaker is uncomfortable with the pledge. Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said that the requirement to publish areas where Republicans disagree with the party is a bad practice. "Should I be in that position, it would give my Democratic opponent tremendous fodder to go against me in my campaign,” Bell said.
Part of the loyalty pledge requires candidates to swear that they are affiliated with no other parties or candidates. In the same meeting during which delegates approved the loyalty oath, they also voted to condemn Ada County commissioner candidate Vern Bisterfeldt, who openly admits to support some Democrat candidates, including Congressman Walt Minnick and state Rep. Branden Durst, for whose campaign Bisterfeldt serves as treasurer. The majority of delegates voted to support the state party sending a letter to Bisterfeldt asking him to withdraw from the race, but some convention-goers were uncomfortable with the move. "This is an Ada County issue and it should be handled there," argued one delegate. "This may be a 'big tent' party, but last time I checked, a tent still has an inside and an outside," said one delegate in favor of condemning Bisterfeldt.
Delegates approved several more changes to the platform, including one that opposes a federal health care rule that mandates that citizens of the United States purchase private health insurance as a requirement to live in the country. Other measures included language that urges party members and candidates to promote government transparency.
(Disclosure: The author of this article had two relatives vote on the final version of the platform.)