TRUE conservatives try to take their party back in Idaho - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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TRUE conservatives try to take their party back in Idaho

Idaho GOP convention delegates oppose legalizing pot

SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — A resolution opposing legalizing marijuana and supporting full enforcement of existing drug laws drew strong opposition from libertarian Republicans before finally clearing a state GOP convention committee Friday, another sign of competing factions vying for a say in shaping Idaho's dominant political party.

Delegates voted 21-9 morning for the resolution against relaxing Idaho's stance on pot.

But opponents of the resolution, including state Reps. Phil Hart, R-Athol, and Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, insisted on delivering a minority report later in the convention when the entire 485 delegates are due to vote on the measure.

The resolution was clearly a response to the presence of Ryan Davidson, a delegate from Ada County and supporter of libertarian-leaning GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. Davidson has spearheaded three successful pro-marijuana ballot initiatives in the central Idaho resort town of Hailey.

That members of the Idaho Republican Party — long considered the bastion of anti-drug policies and tough prison sentences — are even debating views on pot laws at their biannual state convention is indicative of the divergent forces tugging at its seams this year. Social conservatives, libertarian Paul backers and promoters of closing the state's primary have teamed up against establishment party members in a bid to unseat current state GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, a Sullivan backer, said the differences were a sign of the party's success at providing a "big tent" for many different beliefs.

"Our efforts have always been to celebrate those differences," Otter said, adding "It will take a little while for the dust to settle. But you can't go through this process without getting your nose a little out-of-joint. I'm proud of the fact that we've got this kind of energy."

The convention concludes Saturday, when delegates will vote on whether to keep Sullivan or replace him with rival Norm Semanko, a lawyer and lobbyist who ran for Congress in 2006.

On the anti-pot initiative, sponsor Ada County delegate Jeremy Chou said attention to the marijuana issue — and Davidson's inclusion as a delegate — merited somebody coming forward to underscore GOP opposition to illegal drugs, lest observers get the idea that the party was getting soft on controlled substances.

"It's not a personal attack against anybody," Chou said. "It's really just to set the record straight."

Hailey voters last month approved Davidson's initiatives to legalize the medical use of marijuana and the industrial use of hemp and to make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest police priority. They approved the same three measures last November but city officials have balked at recognizing them and have gone to court seeking a judgment to strike them down.

Before the convention, Davidson said he had no plans to introduce any proposals on marijuana.

And he said he didn't learn of Chou's measure until a reporter told him about it after it cleared the resolutions committee.

Had he known the matter would be debated, however, he said he would have likely spoken out against it.

"That's just total propaganda, the company line, right there," he said. "It sounds like it's in reaction to me. One of my goals in doing that (the Hailey initiatives) is obviously to bring attention to the issue. Obviously, they're going the wrong way by affirming the status quo."

Both Thayn and Hart said their opposition to Chou's resolution wasn't tantamount to support for liberalization of drug laws.

But they felt the measure sent the wrong message, at a time when Idaho has sent more than 500 inmates out of state due to overcrowding in prisons filled with thousands of drug offenders.

"The resolution had a tone to it that I thought we need to move away from. The tone was, if somebody is caught with marijuana, we need to throw the book at them. I think we need to turn this ship around and look at treatment as a first option, rather than incarceration," Hart said. "I don't want you to think that I'm pro-marijuana."

Despite losing on the marijuana issue, Paul supporters like Davidson did secure six delegate nominations and six alternates to the national convention in Minneapolis in September — even though Paul suspended his campaign on Thursday. The Idaho nominees, including 17 for John McCain, have to be ratified by the full convention.

Paul received 24% of the Idaho vote in the May 27 GOP presidential primary won by McCain. Sullivan, the party chairman, said he'd reviewed state party rules and concluded Paul was due that share of the delegates.

"I have firm belief and conviction, in order to be fair, we need to elect delegates for the Ron Paul people," he said.

Davidson said he appreciated the fairness, but vowed to still vote for Semanko.

"It's still the same plan — anybody can play fair," he said.

"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon
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