COEUR d'ALENE - It turns out the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee doesn't have the authority to censure four North Idaho legislators for voting against their wishes.
"Sorry I don't have room for discussion on this," said Chairman Neil Oliver. "I find the motion is out of order."
The central committee spent about an hour Tuesday night wrangling over whether or not to censure four North Idaho legislators for creating a state health-care exchange, only to be stopped dead in its tracks when Committeeman Luke Sommer, an expert in parliamentary procedure, pointed out that the committee could not censure anyone outside the committee itself.
"If we can censure someone outside this body we could censure the president of the United States," he said, adding there is nothing in the committee's bylaws or Robert's Rules of Order that would allow the move.
Committeewoman Tina Jacobson passionately put forward the resolution to censure Rep. Frank Henderson, Rep. Luke Malek, Sen. John Goedde and Rep. Ed Morse.
After that a lively debate ensued on issues ranging from those who were concerned about the message it sent to voters to those who felt the legislators should have an opportunity to speak before a final vote was taken.
Prior to the decision to drop the resolution, Committeeman Jim Pierce said that the people of Kootenai County elected these legislators to their position, not the party.
"They are accountable to the people - not the party," he said. "If we pass a censure, we are sending a message that the party is in charge."
Committeewoman Kellie Palm was also concerned with the party's image. She said passing the censure would make the party look "foolish" to the people who truly did their research and understand why the four legislators voted the way they did.
Party image was also a concern when Bjorn Handeen proposed a resolution to assert the Natural Rights of Contracts and to call on the city of Coeur d'Alene to repeal its anti-discrimination ordinance.
He said the resolution was not about gay rights, but rather the freedom for any two parties to willingly enter into a contract or do business with one another.
The anti-discrimination ordinance as passed by the city, he said, uses the law to force citizens to do business with someone they might not otherwise choose to do business with.
"We don't want to reject gays," Handeen said. "We want to protect their right to do business with whoever they want."
Committeeman Duane Rasmussen said he was in favor of the intent of the resolution, but he felt the way it was written would make the committee look "goofy."
"This natural rights stuff is going to make us a laughing stock. If not in the public's eyes, it will in the eyes of the legal community," he said.
After a lengthy debate and few parliamentary maneuvers to amend the language the resolution passed on nearly a split vote.
After the meeting, Henderson said he had hoped to address the central committee before the censure issue was dropped.
"I wish we would have had our day in court," he said. "But they would not allow it, so we have to respect that."
Morse said his vote for the state-based health-care exchange was in the best interest of all his constituents.
"The issue of whether or not they had the power to do it sidesteps the issue of whether or not it was a good decision to be made to try to censure essentially half their delegation," Morse said.
Malek was prepared to address the committee as well. He prepared a statement that called on the committee to reject the censure, and chastised the local party for taking a position on the healthcare exchange that went against local control.
"I want to be clear," he wrote. "I think the resolution from this body asking Republican legislators to adopt a federal exchange betrayed every value voters who have entrusted Republicans with the power here in Kootenai County hold dear.
"That action wounded this party's credibility in the eyes of those who value smaller government."
Senator Goedde did not attend the meeting.