Idaho GOP convention wrestles with immigration, gay marriage

Every two years, the Idaho Republican Party can make amendments to its platform. The debates at this year's convention offer a snapshot of some of the positions – from early childhood education to Medicaid expansion – many Republicans are struggling to clarify.

Kimberlee Kruesi/AP
Republican delegates gather to speak in a general session during the Idaho Republican convention in Pocatello, Idaho, on June 29, 2018.

Idaho Republicans on Saturday spiked a last-ditch effort calling for harsher punishments for employers who hire workers living in the country illegally.

Delegates discussed the issue while finalizing amendments to the Idaho Republican Party platform during the final day of the GOP convention in Pocatello, Idaho.

The platform is the guiding document that outlines the party's principles, goals, and strategies for top political issues. Republicans have an opportunity to tweak the platform every two years at the convention.

This year's changes include noting that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles; emphasizing families and the private sector are the best avenues to provide early childhood education; as well as correcting a handful of typos and grammatical errors.

The amendment to target employers who hire undocumented workers was initially rejected on Friday during the convention by a Republican panel. Yet that didn't stop some supporters from asking the body on Saturday to reconsider the issue, sparking a lengthy debate among members that focused mostly on best practices to prevent people from coming into the country illegally.

In a state that's home to big agricultural industries such as dairy, critics of the proposal warned it would negatively impact Idaho's economy.

"I understand the concern about hiring illegals, and I understand the concern that we are a nation of laws and we need to uphold them and stand by those laws," said state Sen. Jeff Siddoway, a Republican sheep farmer from Terreton. "But there is a pragmatic part to this. We're going to have crops dying in the field."

Others countered the state should not ignore businesses that break the law.

"If your business depends on illegal practices then I call that organized crime," said Bjorn Handeen, a delegate from northern Idaho. "If you want to make a resolution that kids should be better workers, we can do that. But let's stop this organized crime."

The plank proposal failed by a wide margin, but the overall new platform was adopted in a loud supportive voice vote. It was the first time party delegates changed the platform since 2012.

However, before voting on the platform, delegates also rejected a call to remove language from the platform demanding Idaho government officials work to only recognize marriage as between a man and a woman.

Dom Gelsomino, Idaho's first openly gay Republican to run for the Legislature, says he made the request because he believes the government shouldn't be involved in the marriage business. He warned continual resistance from Republicans on gay marriage will only deter rather than attract potential young people to the GOP.

"Government should not be involved whatsoever in a matter that was not delegated to it by the Constitution," Mr. Gelsomino said in his floor speech.

At one point Gelsomino raised a large Bible into the air, saying "God loves all his children unconditionally.... What gives government any authority to say otherwise?"

Multiple delegates began objecting to Gelsominio's remarks, but the complaints were quickly shut down by party leaders warning that all ideas should be heard and given respect.

"This is not the party that tosses someone out at a restaurant, we listen to all points of view," said Trent Clark, who presided over the discussion.

The platform had already defined marriage between a man and a woman, but it now also reads: "We recognize that the definition of marriage and its administration is not subject to federal authority and that Idaho is authorized to nullify any federal congressional act, federal mandate or court opinion that is contrary to traditional marriage."

Delegates also accepted a slate of new resolutions that include directing the Idaho Republican Party to oppose a Medicaid expansion ballot initiative expected to be on the Idaho ballot in November.

Others resolutions ask the Idaho Legislature to make city election partisan in order to hinder Democratic candidates from winning local races, working to eliminate a state standardized test known as the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, and eliminating the color blue from the party logo.

Finally, delegates elected new party officers. While in past years, chairman elections have been contentious and divisive events, delegates unanimously agreed to re-elect Chairman Jonathan Parker to another two-year term. Jennifer Locke, a Republican precinct committeewoman from Hayden, was elected to vice chair.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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