About eight years ago, I received a phone call from a concerned voter in the Jamestown Precinct here in Bingham County. The call was not expressing concern over a position of the party or a Republican candidate on the ballot. The call was expressing concern over the welfare of our precinct committeeman, Wayne Griffith, who was out on a cold and stormy night campaigning for one of the party’s candidates.
Wayne was fine and not fazed by the storm. His commitment sets a good example for me and the many other precinct committeemen in Idaho who serve as volunteers to promote good government and civic engagement.
One will find the office of precinct committeeman toward the end of both Republican and Democratic primary ballots. For many voters, it is an office that unfortunately remains mysterious. The office is an integral part of the governance of county political parties, but also has a role in maintaining good government here in Idaho. One of the statutory duties of this office includes helping decide who fills vacancies in county and state legislative offices.
In Bingham County over the past four years, the Republican Central Committee, which is made up of precinct committeemen, has had the statutory duty to help fill county offices when a Republican elected official resigns or otherwise leaves office before the end of their term. In the case of a county office such as county clerk, assessor, sheriff, prosecutor, treasurer or coroner, members of the central committee by law are required to meet and select three candidates to send to the county commission. By law, the commission must select one of the three names submitted. In the case of county commissioners leaving office, the process is the same, except the governor is required to select one of the three names submitted by the county central committee. If a state legislator leaves office, the precinct committeemen of the legislative district meet and select three candidates to submit to the governor.
Precinct committeemen meeting to help fill vacancies in an elected office is not a rare occurrence. In the last four years, the Bingham County Republican Central Committee has met three times to fill vacancies in county government in the following county offices: coroner, assessor and county prosecutor. Due to the resignation of Nick Hirschi as Bingham County coroner, the committee will be meeting soon to send the names of three possible replacements to the Bingham County Commission to fill the unexpired term.
This is not the only duty of a precinct committeeman that is important to local government. The ability of voters to select the Republican Party’s nominee may well be tied to who is elected as precinct committeeman throughout the state. Last summer, a proposal was brought forward to the Idaho Republican State Central Committee from committee members from Bonneville County to require candidates to obtain an endorsement from the appropriate Republican Central Committee to be placed on the primary ballot.
For example, for a candidate for county prosecutor to be placed on the Republican primary ballot, they would need to get the approval of the Republican County Central Committee. If someone wanted to run for governor in the Republican primary, the Idaho State Republican Central Committee would have to endorse that candidate.
Also under this proposed rule, a central committee — be it at the county, legislative or state level — could only endorse up to two candidates. If a candidate is not endorsed by the applicable Republican Central Committee, their name would not appear on the GOP primary ballot. In practice, this rule could be used by central committees to eliminate the ability of Republican voters to decide who the nominees of the party are. To be clear, if this proposal were to become a party rule, it would be the precinct committeemen who would decide which candidates would be placed on the ballot.
Thankfully last summer this proposal failed. I am proud to say that all the members of the Republican State Central Committee from Bingham County opposed this proposal. However, there is a danger this rule change could reappear at the Idaho Republican State Convention this coming summer. The delegates to this convention will be elected by the precinct committeemen elected in the May 17 Republican primary election. Some of the people running for precinct committeeman here in our region, and throughout the state, are not willing to support the unfettered right of Republican voters to pick the party’s nominees.
Despite being at the end of the primary ballot, the office of precinct committeeman is one that has an important impact on the political life and governance of Idaho. I would encourage voters to learn more about each of the candidates running for this important, but not-well-understood office. Your vote for this office may have important consequences.
Dan Cravens is a Republican precinct committeeman for Blackfoot 4 and is the Bingham County Republican Central Committee chairman.