Idaho GOP fundraising barbecue has early discord

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — An organizer for an Idaho Republican Party fundraiser says she’s having trouble selling tickets because the main speaker is a tea party representative from Washington, D.C., rather than an Idaho candidate.

Marsha Bjornn, who served as the GOP Region 7 chairwoman for 15 years, told the Post Register that her replacement, Bryan Smith, brushed aside opinions of traditional Republicans in selecting Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of Freedom Works.

“People want to hear our candidates,” she said. “They don’t want to pay money to hear a tea partier from Washington, D.C., speak.”

But Smith said having someone of Kibbe’s caliber will be a major draw for the fundraiser and a feather in the party’s cap. Kibbe is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Aug. 28 event in Idaho Falls.

“She’s no longer the chair,” Smith said. “I was duly elected. We don’t have to continue to do things like we’ve always done just because this is the way things have always been done. If we did that, there would be people who would still be afraid to sail the ocean for fear of falling off the ocean because they thought it was flat.”

Kibbe contributed to Smith’s unsuccessful GOP primary campaign against incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson.

“It’s very disappointing to me that (Smith) isn’t trying to help our officials get elected,” Bjornn said. “This is the biggest Republican function in the state, and so we always have a fantastic turnout from our congressional (candidates) and our constitutional officers.”

Bjornn estimates that, among those who are very active in the party, about half back the tea party, and half are “conservative, traditional Republicans.”

But she said that among the broader voting public, traditional Republicans are in the majority.

“This isn’t what they would want,” she said, “or else Bryan would have been elected and not Mike Simpson.”

“I’m a conservative Republican and I won the Region 7 chair,” said Smith, an attorney. “So, I don’t know how she can say that the conservatives aren’t a majority.”

The Idaho Republican Party earlier this month elected a new statewide chairman after the state GOP convention two months ago failed to do that after grinding to a halt due to political infighting.

“I hope that this event brings Republicans together in a unifying way to officially close the door on the primary that tore us apart,” GOP national committeeman Damond Watkins said.

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