By KEITH RIDLER
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A judge late on Friday banned the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee and its executive team from endorsing candidates following a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Republican Party and Chairman Tom Luna.
Fourth District Judge Jason Scott issued the preliminary injunction preventing the central committee from using direct mail, social media, flyers or other forms of communication to make endorsements.
The Idaho Republican Party filed the lawsuit late Thursday contending the central committee was masquerading as the Idaho Republican Party in endorsing a slate of far-right candidates and confusing the state’s 400,000 registered Republicans.
The central committee’s “illegal conduct therefore not only fundamentally undermines the electoral process — it ultimately risks reducing the quality and effectiveness of government,” the lawsuit said.
The central committee put out a sample ballot with large print across the top saying “The OFFICIAL Republican Party.” The words “Bonneville County Republican Party” appear much smaller at the bottom.
Among the sample ballot picks are Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin over incumbent Gov. Brad Little, former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador over incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and Bryan Smith over incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson. The committee has also made donations to candidates.
Smith, a central committee member, is named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said the central committee is making the endorsements in violation of its bylaws that require it to remain neutral in Republican primaries. The lawsuit states that Idaho election law makes the Idaho GOP rules binding on the central committee.
“While we’re pleased with the court’s decision, it’s regrettable that we were forced to take this action through the judiciary,” Luna said in a statement after the ruling. “At the end of the day, this is about party unity. The Republican Party needs to speak with one unified voice and the state party rules were put in place to ensure that happens. Rules and laws exist to help us navigate when we disagree.”
Bonneville County Republican Central Committee chairman Mark Fuller, also named in the lawsuit, didn’t return a phone message from The Associated Press.
Luna before the lawsuit criticized the central committee for the sample ballot. The central committee on its Facebook page on Wednesday dismissed those concerns.
“The Bonneville County Republican party stands behind the hard work of our volunteers, our candidate recommendations, and the publications that we have sent out,” the group wrote.
The Republican primary is Tuesday but was preceded by early in-person voting. Mail-in voting is ongoing.