Conservative Consolidation in Ada

In 2020, Victor Miller assembled a team of insurgents who won precinct committeeman races and then won control of the Ada County Republican Central Committee. He and his team consolidated their control in 2022, and Miller was reelected as chair with no opposition.

Miller’s team, led by soon-to-be vice chairs Megan Reichle, Travis Clyde, and Barrett Tetlow, wooed new PCs with pizza outside the 2022 reorganization meeting and handed out slick cards listing their recommended officer candidates. Some conservatives were frustrated with the way in which Miller had led the ACRCC over the past two years, but they were disorganized and aimless.

Several conservative candidates stood up to challenge the slate, and ended up winning three of the nine officer seats. Mike Hon, Colette Costello, and Ashley Mujagic were elected as state committeeman, secretary, and state youth committeeperson, respectively. Over the next year, these three would often be sidelined by the majority on the executive board, and were left holding the bag when the other six suddenly resigned last fall.

The subsequent election of replacement officers was anticlimactic. None of the seats were contested and the former officers seemed content to sit back and wait. They formed their own PAC, the Idaho Majority Club, hosting events and sending out mailers for Republican candidates.

As we all geared up for the May 21 primary, Tom Luna and Trent Clark’s Gem State Conservatives reached out to establishment groups in each county, including the former officers. They worked to elect as many PCs as possible who would support returning to the status quo.

Meanwhile, conservatives continued to organize and recruit candidates as well. Their influence in the ACRCC had been growing over the last two years as they unified and recruited new PCs to fill vacancies. In fact, the mass resignation of officers was sparked by the state central committee’s new rule that banned proxy voting, which is the method the former officers used to control the committee.

Which side would prevail? The moment of truth came last Wednesday.

Prior to the reorganization meeting at the Boise Centre, both groups held rallies to introduce their candidates. Travis Clyde and Megan Reichle shared pizza in Andrus Park while Dorothy Moon headlined a gathering in the Grove Plaza. (Former ACRCC officers Victor Miller and Barrett Tetlow were not present. Both lost their PC races in district 14.) Each side presented their slates of candidates, hoping to woo any remaining undecided PCs:

The first thing that jumped out to me regarding the competing slates is that the conservatives were already involved. All of the conservative candidates, save Sam Boyd, had been in the trenches for at least the last two years. Every one of them had given many hours to the Republican Party. (As a CPA, Boyd was asked to stand for treasurer to ensure the integrity of ACRCC finances going forward, picking up from Sue Hoffer, who righted the ship after the mess that was left by the former officers.)

That was not necessarily the case with the “Idaho Strong” slate. While some of the candidates, notably Teresa Haldorson, have been quite involved with the ACRCC, many of the others came out of state government and the bureaucracy. It really seems to be the case that when Tom Luna, Trent Clark, and the others in the Gem State Conservatives opened their rolodexes to find PC and officer candidates, most of them were involved in government or lobbying. That’s not necessary a bad thing, but it is striking, isn’t it?

Perhaps the most surprising thing I heard at the pizza rally was Travis Clyde explaining how the slate of officer candidates came to be. He said that he and others were praying, and names started coming to them, and they all felt that these were great choices. Maybe I misinterpreted him, but I’m pretty sure he outright admitted that the candidates were handpicked by a small group of people.

Not to take anything away from Debra Pitts, Nancy Merrill, or the rest, but were Clyde, Reichle, and the others expecting to wield power through the ACRCC executive board?

The question is moot now, as the conservative slate won a clean sweep at the reorganization meeting.

The ACRCC had rented a room at the Boise Centre, which turned out to be standing room only. 179 PCs out of Ada County’s 197 showed up to vote, with dozens more guests in the back.

The first election was for the position of chairman. Thad Butterworth stepped up last fall after the resignations and was standing for election to a full term. Opposing him was businesswoman Debra Pitts. Both gave reasonably good speeches about Republican unity, and after a long vote count, Butterworth was reelected on a 106-73 vote.

Chairman Thad Butterworth | Photo by Daniel Murphy

Butterworth’s votes lined up with what many conservatives believed was their whip count of new PCs, while Pitts’ was short of expectations. It seems likely that most of the 18 PCs who were not in attendance as the meeting began were potential supporters of the Idaho Strong slate.

Incumbent 1st vice chair Ryan Spoon has drawn criticism for being outspoken on social media. I heard from some conservatives who were concerned that he would be too divisive and flammable to win a broad base of support. The Gem State Conservatives selected former Eagle mayor Nancy Merrill to run against him, perhaps hoping that her experience and lack of controversy would contrast with the bombastic Spoon. While he lost some of the voters who supported Butterworth for chair, he still won 97-82.

1st Vice Chairman Ryan Spoon | Photo by Daniel Murphy

There was some drama during nominations for 2nd vice chair. The Idaho Strong faction nominated Alicia Purdy, a teacher in the Vallivue School District, member of the board of the Idaho Education Association, and administrator of the “Actual Idaho Political Chat” Facebook page. In his nomination speech for Phil Reynolds, PC Tony Prudente accused Purdy of being a liberal who supports Democrats. This elicited boos from the crowd, and Chairman Butterworth eventually ruled his speech out of order.

Reynolds himself gave a calm and measured speech, but many in the room wondered if this attack would cost him votes. However, Reynolds defeated Purdy 104-73.

2nd Vice Chairman Phil Reynolds | Photo by Daniel Murphy

At this point it was clear how the rest of the night was going to go. Conservative votes were holding steady, while the Idaho Strong PCs were beginning to feel demoralized. Vicky McIntyre was elected 3rd vice chair 103-72 over Teresa Haldorson, Colette Costello was reelected secretary 105-66 over Tara Pugmire, and Sam Boyd won election as treasurer in absentia 96-69 over Brian Garrett.

3rd Vice Chairwoman Vicky McIntyre | Photo by Daniel Murphy
Secretary Colette Costello | Photo by Daniel Murphy

The final three positions are perhaps the most important, since they determine who sits on the Idaho GOP State Central Committee. All three incumbents — Mike Hon, Cheryl Hurd, and Ashley Mujagic — were running for reelection, challenged by Dwight Johnson, Tina Polishchuk, and McKenzie Johnson, respectively.

After Hon won reelection by a 94-68 vote, Polishchuk appeared to read the room, adjusting her speech to match what the majority of PCs seemed to want. Rather than railing against Idaho GOP chair Dorothy Moon or calling for the repeal of Article XX, allowing central committees to censure lawmakers, she shared her conservative and evangelical background. Nevertheless, the slate held, and Hurd won 105-55.

As the last speaker for Idaho Strong, McKenzie Johnson went all out, denouncing both Article XX and extremism. Ashley Mujagic emphasized her work in mobilizing young conservatives to get involved in the political process, and won 102-53, completing the conservative sweep.

State Commiteeman Mike Hon | Photo by Daniel Murphy
State Committeewoman Cheryl Hurd | Photo by Daniel Murphy
State Youth Committeeperson Ashley Mujagic | Photo by Daniel Murphy

At the Andrus Park pizza party, Travis Clyde told Idaho Strong PCs to stay until the very end, and many did. However, it’s clear that some began leaving as their candidates started losing each election. The Idaho Strong slate peaked with 82 votes for Nancy Merrill, but by the end of the night was in the mid 50s.

The meeting ended just after midnight with the approval of a slate of 105 delegates for the Idaho GOP State Convention next month in Coeur d’Alene. What a difference two years has made. The largest county central committee in Idaho is now firmly conservative and ready to take a more active role in making Idaho a more conservative state.

This result did not happen on its own. Many people worked long and hard to make Wednesday night happen, most of whom did so in the background without thought of credit or recognition. Political victories come from long, hard, tedious work, often without fanfare. It’s a thankless job but it’s necessary to save our state, and our country.

There is a bonus note for paid subscribers over at Substack. Not subscribed? Click here to do that now!

Get the Gem State Chronicle in your email!
Get the Gem State Chronicle in your email!