The Schism Within the Kootenai County Republican Party

Last updated:
Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Whether we like it or not, America’s political system consists of two major parties jockeying for power in order to implement a particular political agenda. The party platforms are the baseline for determining where a person falls on the broader topics and issues. In a perfect world, a person’s integrity and honest character would keep them within the folds of the party that most aligns with their own personal values and promotes their political objectives. Unfortunately, there are those who have no scruples and are willing to associate themselves with whatever party is most likely to advance their personal ambition, even if that means lying about their true political affiliation. For decades, these unscrupulous individuals have used the Republican party to advance progressive policies in Idaho, and it took the first Trump administration and the unprecedented events of 2020 to awaken the average Republican voter to this fact.

For the last three and a half years, the local Republican party, known as the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC) which is an official part of the Idaho GOP, has utilized a program they call “rating and vetting.” The program was billed as a way to ferret out local candidates who use the Republican brand to launch themselves into elected office even though they may not align with the majority of the party platform. Think pro-life Democrats campaigning under the guise of conservative Republicans because it is very difficult to get elected in Kootenai County if you are honest enough to admit your political ideology leans left.

Initially, a vast number of voters who affiliate as Republicans in Kootenai County agreed that something was needed to help identify those who use the party name without really agreeing with party principles or policy initiatives. However, what started out as a legitimate and well-intentioned response to stop the troubling trend of “Republicans” governing as Democrats has devolved into a party purity test that has pitted factions within the broader Republican coalition against themselves, and has instigated a direct assault from the progressive left masquerading as “the real Republicans.” In Kootenai County, this progressive group calls themselves North Idaho Republicans (NIR) and their most prominent members are admitted Biden supporters, advocates of LGBTQAI+, and donors to Democrat-led political action committees like Reclaim Idaho. In a past election cycle, the North Idaho Republicans and the Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee had nearly identical endorsements, which NIR promoted as the “traditional and conservative” choice. 

Currently, this Republican schism is on full display in two areas; the County Commissioner District 1 race and the precinct committeeman (PC) seats.

There are four candidates for the District 1 Commissioner seat; Marc Eberlein, Dale Gibboney, John Padula, and Bat Masterson. The Kootenai Journal has interviewed all four candidates. Everything released by the campaigns, from their questionnaires, forums, and town hall gatherings, appears to show that all four men are Republicans in good standing. To date, there is nothing to indicate any of the four are progressive, leftist, RINO, Democrat or whatever label one gives to a “fake” Republican. Collectively, the four candidates represent the vast expanse of voters that constitute the Republican coalition. Keep in mind, this coalition is necessary to overcome the Democratic machine. This race was the perfect opportunity for the KCRCC to give the local Republican primary voters the opportunity to select the representative of their choice without weighing the scales in one direction or another.

Instead, the KCRCC gave themselves a self-inflicted wound by selecting one of the District 1 Commissioner candidates to promote over the others. This decision has undermined the original intent of the rating and vetting program and created wide-spread division amongst regular Republican voters who have been conditioned to believe that all non-endorsed candidates are “less than” Republicans, or worse, Democrats in disguise. Based on reactions from many supporters of the maligned campaigns, there appears to be a growing skepticism to the KCRCC endorsements. To make matters worse, the decision also resulted in a strategic win for the North Idaho Republican group who advance the narrative that the KCRCC rating and vetting program is destroying the Republican party and the community at large, even though it is rather obvious that NIR is actively undermining the ability of the Republican coalition to gain conservative ground by promoting progressive candidates and the Mitch McConnell-Mitt Romney uniparty brand of Republicanism.

Additionally, almost all of the KCRCC PC seats have been arranged to pit an incumbent PC against a candidate promoted by the progressive North Idaho Republicans. This head-to-head contest between the two groups was not arranged solely by the progressives. There were several instances of incumbent PCs applying pressure on honorable Republicans to keep them off the ballot. There are some exceptions; of the 73 Republican PC races, five are uncontested and five have three-way contests. In contrast, none of the 73 Democratic PC seats are contested and there are no candidates in 32 precincts.

The truth is rarely convenient and it often upsets all sides in a contentious situation. The battle between the current leadership in the KCRCC and the NIR progressives is no exception. Worse, it has left the broad conservative Republican coalition confused, distrustful, and frustrated.

No matter where you live in Kootenai County, chances are you have a distinct choice in the May 21 primary election that will shape the direction of the Republican party for the next two years. Will Republican primary voters usher in a new progressive majority, or salvage the work to uphold the platform that is supposed to guide the Republican brand? Trump or Biden? That is what’s on the ballot for the majority of Republican PC seats. In-person early voting is available from May 6 through May 17 at the county election office in Coeur d’Alene. Election day is Tuesday, May 21 at your assigned precinct polling place.