Idaho AG spat skips generation, exposing GOP rift

BOISE, Idaho (AP) In Republican Idaho, questioning somebody's allegiance to the U.S. Constitution makes for, well, fightin' words. As GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden recently discovered, levying the charge against a political rival through her grandson isn't taken lightly, either.

Wasden and LeeAnn Callear, a Republican Central Committee official from Orofino, have engaged in a feud for more than a year. Callear is among libertarian-leaning conservatives who question whether Wasden's office adequately defends GOP positions.

The three-term Republican AG, meanwhile, says his job transcends party politics.

On April 25, Callear's grandson, 16-year-old Mitch Dollemore, was at the Idaho Capitol in Boise for the YMCA Youth Legislature. In a brief exchange, Wasden and Dollemore agree this happened under the rotunda: The AG suggested to the teen his grandmother didn't believe in the Constitution.

Wasden says he immediately realized he'd gone too far, issuing a written apology to Dollemore within the hour, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. For his part, he appears genuinely mortified his fight with Callear skipped a generation.

"I regret those words," Wasden told the AP Thursday. "I apologized to him as quickly as I could. I regretted it immediately. It's unfortunate that it happened, but it did."

Dollemore says Wasden's critique of his grandma, who is raising him in northcentral Idaho, still stings.

"I was astonished to see our attorney general would bash my grandmother in front of me," Dollemore said. "She's a die-hard Republican. She's one of the most conservative people I'd ever met."

Beyond merely a behind-the-scenes intergenerational GOP dustup, however, this exchange underscores that while Republicans may control all statewide elected positions, Idaho's four U.S. House and Senate posts and 81 percent of the Legislature, their party is hardly a monolithic beast where everybody agrees.

Wasden's office has regularly run afoul of the right-leaning, libertarian wing to which Callear generally belongs.

For instance, some are frustrated at his legal opinions like one in 2011 concluding Idaho's attempts to nullify President Obama's health insurance overhaul were unconstitutional. Add to that friction over bills to limit trade unions; Wasden's staff opined they'd be vulnerable to legal challenge, a conclusion borne out in subsequent court challenges.

So deep is this rift, Republican lawmakers in 2012 set aside $200,000 for advice from outside lawyers, not Wasden.

Callear's and Wasden's personal feud escalated at a GOP event in March 2012 in Kamiah, Idaho.

There, she confronted him over his legal opinion in January concluding then-House Speaker Lawerence Denney and state GOP Chairman Norm Semanko had no right to fire two Republicans on the commission drawing up new legislative districts. She contends Wasden was protecting his Republican cronies.

"I simply said to him, I want you to know I disagreed with your decision," she recalled, adding what escalated into a heated discussion she maintains Wasden jabbed a finger at her simmered through last summer's GOP convention in Twin Falls and into April's exchange with her grandson.

"I don't like him, it's well known," Callear acknowledges. "But that was just more than I could take."

Wasden acknowledges he's in the hot seat with GOP colleagues like Callear who think his legal briefs should be tailored to reflect conservative- or libertarian-leaning ideological stances.

That's not his job, he insists.

"I've tried very diligently, as the attorney general, to call balls and strikes fairly and squarely," he said. "That's what I'm obligated to do. Sometimes, the law comes into contravention with people's personal policy views. Some of those people don't understand the distinction between policy views and the law."

Dollemore, an Orofino High School junior, called Youth Legislature a great event other than the run-in with Wasden. But even that was an eye-opener, about inflamed intra-party passions.

"That's politics for you," he said. "First impressions do last. That wasn't very nice."