Republicans clash over Hart

Central committee will vote to remove leader over support refusal

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COEUR d'ALENE - The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee is looking to boot one of its leaders for denouncing Rep. Phil Hart and his tax quandaries.

The committee will vote tonight on whether to remove State Committeeman Matt Roetter over his refusal to support the Athol legislator.

"This vote is important, because it's going to identify what the local party's identity is. If they vote me out, it's because a lot of people support what Phil Hart is about," said Roetter, who said he is a four-term committee member with two terms as state committeeman. "This vote's not really about me, it's about Phil Hart."

In an e-mail sent to committee members on Monday, Roetter accused Hart - who refused to pay income tax for several years - of holding himself above the law. Roetter labeled the third-term legislator as an "illegal tax dodger" and a "timber thief," alluding to timber on state land Hart used to build his Athol home.

Many had thought Hart's tax issues were settled before the primary, Roetter said. It wasn't until after that election that information surfaced about the government imposing hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liens against Hart.

"So I objected. I said, 'I won't support a guy who has these issues surrounding him, because it's not good for the Republican party,'" said Roetter, who lives in Hayden. "Character matters. Being honest matters."

After Roetter voiced this opinion among the central committee, though, the group approved 29 to 16 at a September meeting to vote on his removal tonight.

"The issue is not so much that he does not support Phil Hart," said Vermont Trotter, precinct 60 committeeman. "The issue is that he publicly disavows Phil Hart and then very publicly, as state committeeman in his official capacity, says he will not support him and absolutely support the write-in candidate against him."

This defies the primary process, Trotter said, which selects which candidates represent their parties in the general election.

"I don't care who it is. If the guy is elected through the primaries, that is the person we're obligated to support," Trotter said. "It could be Bozo the Clown, for all I care. Not that Phil Hart is a bozo."

Steve Adams, district 4 chairman on the Republican Committee, also said party support is expected among committee leaders, especially the state committeeman who acts as liaison between the county and state committees.

"Any position on the executive board requires leadership by example," Adams wrote in an e-mail.

Roetter said he had requested the committee delay the vote to instead focus on the upcoming election, but his request was unacknowledged.

Committee Chair Tina Jacobson, who has filled in for Hart at the Legislature, declined to comment on the situation.

Roetter pointed out that Hart's philosophy that income tax is illegal is not part of the Republican platform.

"If the central committee votes me out, it's going to be in support of a guy who stole timber off of state endowment lands and won't pay his taxes," Roetter said. "If that's what the central committee is going to be made up of, it's best I be voted out, because I disagree with that."

A vote to remove Roetter would require two-thirds vote from a central committee quorum. The vote will take place tonight at 7 at the GOP headquarters in Coeur d'Alene.

Trotter persisted that though he supports Hart's stance on taxes, Roetter's removal only means support of the primary process.

"This is the way the country is set up to operate. When the voice of the people speaks, that's the way it is," he said. "So get over it."

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