Unfair. Biased. Bullying. Cheating. Character-shaming.
Those certainly seem like a lot of very unpleasant descriptions for an organization that you’d think should be as straightforward as the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.
Yet all of them — and more — have been thrown at the KCRCC in the past year or two, and very public criticism has been ramped up dramatically in the last few months.
The genesis of it all was a new and growing majority of right-wing Christian conservatives — many of whom were newcomers from outside Idaho — who essentially took over the committee by winning elections to many of the 70 available precinct positions.
“We’re here, we’re the majority and we win votes on most issues because we showed up, we ran and we were fairly elected to those seats,” said Don Bradway, himself a precinct committeeman and vocal member of the American Redoubt.
“That’s simple democracy, and people who want to whine about it should show up, participate and make themselves heard.”
Ah, but there’s the rub.
Critics of the current KCRCC membership rarely complain about how conservatives got an honest toehold on the committee.
But they are upset by what they see as underhanded methods that the far right — led by committee chairman and former Tea Party advocate Brent Regan — uses to hold and increase its majority to the point that the county’s only official Republican organization is now simply an arch-conservative echo chamber.
Several longtime members of the KCRCC have quit because they think their voices and opinions now have become meaningless.
Regan strongly rejects those accusations, and insists that the committee adheres strictly to its by-laws, which actually are set down by the Idaho State Republican Committee.
“My role is to ensure we have fair and proper debate on whatever the issue might be,” Regan said. “We make sure that happens. Everyone gets a fair chance to speak under the proper parliamentary rules.”
Regan and other KCRCC conservatives have defended another charge, that whenever there is a precinct committee spot open, it gets filled with yet another avowed member of the majority.
They point out that elections for those roles are held every two years, and they need volunteers to do the work — whatever their political views.
“I think we have six open precinct spots now and maybe another dozen where people were elected but don’t show up,” Regan said. “Someone will have to help in those precincts. It’s certainly not anything glamorous.”
According to committee by-laws, any member can nominate someone for an open precinct position. At the following meeting, that person is given a chance to speak — assuming they’re interested in the job, and have lived in the precinct for at least six months.
Finally, there is a secret ballot and members are asked simply to vote yes or no on the candidate.
Of course, that plays into the hands of critics who claim any nominee would have to agree with the conservative majority to get the required “Yes” vote.
As the discussion of precincts suggests, the KCRCC’s main function is to help elect Republican candidates at every level.
“We only get involved after the primaries,” Bradway said. “We’re not allowed to take any sides with Republicans running against each other, even if we might have a preference.
“That’s not our role, nor should it be.”
On the subject of roles, one item mentioned by almost everyone who has taken a shot at the KCRCC, and Regan’s custody of the chair, mentions how much time is spent on debating resolutions — many of which stray from North Idaho to NATO, Turkey (the country, not the Thanksgiving dinner), raw milk and so on.
“An appropriate discussion would be about allocating money for our booth at the (county) fair,” said Duane Rasmussen, a lawyer and a committee member for 16 years. “But wasting time and words on some of these goofy things is pointless.
“I call them ‘fantasy resolutions,’ and sometimes they make meetings last pretty late at night.”
Asked flat-out why he remains in the KCRCC with other Republican groups available, Rasmussen said: “It’s cheap entertainment, I guess. Doesn’t cost much money for gas to go down and be amused.”
The dead-serious conservatives who dominate virtually every vote — including installation of Regan as chair and uber-controversial Alex Barron as committee secretary — don’t find anything amusing about their resolutions.
“I don’t know where Barron came from so suddenly,” Rasmussen said. “He moved here from California a few months ago and the next thing you know, he’s voted onto the executive committee — or whatever you call it.
“Frankly, I think it just happened because he’s a friend of Brent’s, maybe from church.”
Criticism from outside, or from precinct committee members like Christa Hazel — who has quit the committee and immediately became subject to vicious attacks by Barron in print and on his podcast — likely doesn’t have the same impact as comments from a loyal, longtime conservative member like Rasmussen.
“I’m always sorry to hear negative things from anyone on the committee,” Regan said. “We work hard to be fair and the resolutions that have been mentioned always have to be political in nature.
“Despite what people outside may think — people who don’t attend our meetings — there actually is quite a bit of diversity on the committee. We just had a vote that essentially was about globalism versus nationalism, and the result was 20 to 18 with 3 abstentions.
“We encourage spirited debate.”
The problem, of course, is that as the hard-core conservative majority grows, more moderates are likely to leave, pushing the numerical advantage even higher.
“I do kind of wish Christa and others would stay involved,” Rasmussen said. “I told her that if she resigned, she’d get lots of publicity for a week or two, but if she stayed, she could make her points for five minutes at every meeting.
“Each time we lose a voice that’s a little different, the real work and influence of this committee gets weaker.”
In case you missed it
• What’s behind the GOP takeover: http://bit.ly/JimPierceColumn
• Here’s how wrong this committee has gone: http://bit.ly/PressEditorial
• Where did the GOP go?: http://bit.ly/ChristaHazelColumn
• KCRCC: Decorum and freedom of speech: http://bit.ly/BrentReganColumn