Is this Ada County GOP infighting, or an effort to bring ‘diverse’ perspectives in line?

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To state Rep. James Petzke, it seemed like a minor difference. He joined his fellow Republicans in supporting a new budgeting approach that would allow legislators to first pass “maintenance budgets” to keep state agencies afloat, and then to spend more time deliberating any additional funds requested.

Petzke, a Meridian Republican and a member of the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, or JFAC, just wanted to redefine the word “maintenance” to make sure it captured basics like the replacement of broken equipment, or pay raises to keep pace with inflation.

So, in early February, he voted along with eight other Republicans and three Democrats to pass alternate budgets that would incorporate those items.

On April 5, he learned through a social media post that the Ada County Republican Central Committee had passed a resolution to express its “strong disapproval” of these actions. In the resolution, committee members said he deviated from the Republican Party line.

“Representative James Petzke was the ONLY Republican legislator from Ada County to vote against the budget reform process and vote to pass rival, much larger budgets,” the resolution reads. “The Ada County Republican Central Committee supports any action which … the Idaho Republican Party may choose to bring against Representative James Petzke in order to defend and promote conservative Republican Party values.”

Idaho Rep. James Petzke, R-Meridian.
Idaho Rep. James Petzke, R-Meridian.

This was the second time in recent months that the county committee officially denounced a Republican legislator. In December, the committee chastised Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, a Boise Republican, after he stripped two senators of their committee positions in the Legislature, the Statesman previously reported.

Other county Republican parties, along with the state party, have taken similar stances in recent months. In March, the Republican committee in southeastern Idaho’s Bonneville County censured state Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen and state Sen. Kevin Cook, both of Idaho Falls, for “conduct unbecoming of a Republican representative” and disregard for the party’s platform, the Post Register reported.

In August, Republican Rep. Lori McCann of Lewiston spoke out about the trend of censuring Republican legislators in an interview with the Idaho Statesman after she was censured three times in one year.

“It’s about Idaho GOP politics and what’s going on in our entire state,” McCann said. “There’s a lot of mistreatment against some real good legislators who are more in the middle or are trying to work with all the Republicans.”

In its April resolution, the Ada County party took issue with Petzke’s approach to the budget reforms.

“After previously indicating support for the budget reform process in JFAC, Representative James Petzke waited until JFAC Co-Chair Rep. Wendy Horman was out sick,” the resolution reads.

In an interview with the Statesman, Petzke called Horman’s illness “a coincidence,” and said he did not know she would be out that day until he arrived for the vote that morning.

Petzke, 29, who describes himself in his online bio as a small-business owner, outdoorsman and life-long Christian, is serving his first term in the Legislature. His District 21 stretches from Eagle Road west to the Canyon County line, mostly south of Ustick Road and north of Victory Road.

He took office after winning a four-way GOP primary contest in May 2022 and winning the November general election with 62% of the vote. He is running for a second term this year, facing Meridian residents Monica McKinley and Adam Nelson in the May 21 primary. Of the three, Petzke has reported raising the most money for his campaign so far.

He said the resolution is a “fundraising tactic” for the county party.

“They basically just put that resolution in an email with a bunch of ‘Donate Now’ buttons,” he said. “They didn’t give me an opportunity to tell my side of the story or, you know, even clarify exactly what happened. Because, honestly, the resolution that they ran, it didn’t get the facts even remotely right. They kind of just made something up and ran with it.”

In a press release, the Ada County Republican Central Committee criticized state Rep. James Petzke, R-Meridian, for joining “with Democrats to derail the budget reform process.” Petzke said the committee used the resolution as a “fundraising tactic,” and he noted the email’s multiple links soliciting donations.
In a press release, the Ada County Republican Central Committee criticized state Rep. James Petzke, R-Meridian, for joining “with Democrats to derail the budget reform process.” Petzke said the committee used the resolution as a “fundraising tactic,” and he noted the email’s multiple links soliciting donations.

County GOP chairman Thad Butterworth said resolutions and censures are more about trying to “bring everybody into alignment” within the party.

“The Democrat party, they have a different way of dealing with this, in that people that don’t toe the party line exactly never go anywhere,” he told the Idaho Statesman in an interview. “Because the Republican Party tends to be a much more ideologically diverse set of people,” resolutions like the one against Petzke can “give a clear delineation between the people who are trying to represent the party platform and the people who would rather get very loose with it.”

He said the resolution was a response to Petzke’s voting record, not just to the specific concerns about budget reforms.

“The general sense I have is that the large portion of the [central committee] is fairly dissatisfied with Representative Petzke’s voting record because he doesn’t adhere to the party platform,” said Butterworth, who did not vote on the resolution. “I think that particular instance just sparked enough desire for action.”

Jaclyn Kettler, a professor of political science at Boise State University, told the Statesman that when it comes to elections, it is too soon to say what effect resolutions like these will have on censured legislators.

“Does the incumbent struggle more” in elections if they have been censured, “or is it a way for them to actually also increase their [own campaign’s] energy and fundraising?” she said in an interview. “Honestly, I don’t think we really know yet. I think this is becoming such a newer trend that we’re still kind of figuring it out.”

Butterworth was optimistic that this resolution and others like it would resonate with Republican voters.

“The voters I talk to express frustration a lot of times with not feeling like their views are being represented within the Republican Party,” he said. “From my standpoint, the desired outcome is to let voters know that this representative does not represent the platform of the party.”

Petzke thinks voters will be unimpressed.

“I don’t know that [the resolution] impacts me as much as it just looks really, really bad for the party,” he said. “I think it just looks like the party is more interested in fighting itself, rather than tackling the issues that actually benefit everyday Idahoans.”

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