COEUR d'ALENE - As Rep. Phil Hart wrestles the IRS over tax discrepancies, the Kootenai County Republican Party has fractured, according to four party members who spoke to The Press on Monday.
"What you've got is a group of wackos that have taken over the party," Sen. Mike Jorgenson said. "And they are supporting Phil Hart's agenda."
Most party leaders, including central committee chair Tina Jacobson, are firmly committed to Hart, Jorgenson said. But there are some Kootenai County Republicans who do not agree with Hart's stand on the 16th Amendment, and have chosen not to back him.
That disagreement has led to a division within the party.
"Who is (Hart) to say that the 16th Amendment is not a law?" asked committeeman Matt Roetter. "I said I will not support somebody who is violating the law. I was put on a skewer in the central committee for saying I wouldn't support him. It's not in our (party) platform that state and federal taxes are unconstitutional."
According to attorney Duane Rasmussen, Hart has also "disregarded Article III (Supreme Court) judges in his argument that the 16th Amendment is not valid."
Hart said Monday he does believe the 16th Amendment is constitutional, but the law has been interpreted too broadly. For the past six years, he added, he has been trying to square his taxes with the IRS.
"I've had the goalposts moved on me a few times, and my attempts to get back into the system have been frustrated," Hart said.
The IRS has filed nearly $1 million in liens against Hart.
No one from the Kootenai County Republican Party has approached him with concerns, Hart said, nor has he spoken face-to-face with any of his detractors. One-on-one discussion would be the best way to address the problem, he added.
"That seems to me where we should start this process," Hart said.
The party is not so deeply divided as to preclude open discourse, he said.
Yet Roetter and fellow Kootenai County Republican Fred Meckel claimed that party leadership, particularly Jacobson, engaged in "Gestapo-like" scare tactics during the organization's meeting last Tuesday.
"Tina (Jacobson) said at the last Central Committee meeting that, 'If you do not support Phil Hart, I want your resignation,'" Roetter recalled.
He said he could be voted out of the central committee at the next meeting later this month (it would require a 60 percent vote). One committeeman, Gary Ingram, has already tendered his resignation, the party members said.
Jacobson declined to comment Monday.
"Our pledge, and our oath, was to the citizens, not to the party," Jorgenson said. "If these people stay in control, they certainly don't represent my values, or standards."
Jorgenson, whose term of office ends this year, was defeated by Steve Vick in the May primary election. Vick received 59.5 percent of the vote.
Aside from Hart's tax issues, the four party members were also galled by the legislator's decision to not support Sen. John McCain - the GOP candidate - during the 2008 presidential election.
Hart backed Ron Paul instead.
They were also displeased by the influence of Rally Right, a highly conservative organization that supports Hart.
"It's not just Kootenai County," Jorgenson argued. "There are other central committees that have been hijacked, that have been orchestrated by Phil Hart and company. These people either need to be moved out, or there's going to be a new Republican Party, perhaps an independent Republican Party."
Hart said the time for intra-party politics is during the primary election. With the general election near at hand, divisiveness is not good for the GOP.
"I think it's important that we have party unity," Hart said. "If there's someone they don't like, they can just focus their energy elsewhere."