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Politics & Government

Idaho's New GOP Chairman Promises To Leave Personal Politics Out Of His Job

Melissa Davlin
Idaho Public Television

The new leader of Idaho's Republican Party says the GOP is beginning to heal after a chaotic state convention in June, and a summer full of fighting that ended in court.

Republicans picked Steve Yates to be their new party chairman August 2. A judge in Twin Falls cleared the way for that meeting to take place when he ruled that Barry Peterson was no longer the party's leader.

Peterson's assertion that he should remain the party chairman after the failed convention in June was at the heart of the summer spat.

Yates is a Maryland native, a political consultant and former Dick Cheney staff member.

He says he wasn’t sure how to feel when he was first approached about being a candidate for the job.

"It is a lot of work," he says. "And party chairman is not one of those jobs, in any state, that you do if you imagine you're going to go onward to glory. There's a lot of demands. And you're sort of the first person to blame if things don't go the way people hope, through an election cycle."

Yates has only lived in Idaho three years. He thinks that, coupled with his resume, was a positive for party members weary of the infighting.

"I felt like I had something to offer by way of my past national political experience and some of my experience with the media," he says. "And the fact that I hadn't lived here long enough to have too many enemies sort of put me in a position where I can deal in good faith with people on two sides of a dispute."

The fight pitted party moderates against the far right wing of the GOP. But Yates thinks the disagreement was spurred by more than ideology. He thinks differences in personalities, finances, and the application of party rules all contributed. He calls the summer a "very tense and divisive period."

Yates says he has two top priorities right now; fundraising and traveling the state to meet Republicans and sharing with them his vision for the party. That won't necessarily include where he stands on particular issues.

"While I have my own strong views, I don't view my role as chairman as being my job to impose my preferences."

Republicans dominate Idaho politics. But political observers have wondered if some candidates could be hurt by the state of the party in this year's elections. Yates says the summer fighting has left the GOP in a less than ideal position, particularly when it comes to fundraising.

"I wish we could have started sooner on having the funding to develop a full campaign strategy for victory going through the November cycle. I wish that we were already deploying field offices and other assets that would typically be done by a party to support all of our candidates. But we'll get there."

Find Scott Graf on Twitter @scottgrafradio

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