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AN UNCIVIL WAR: Damond Watkins says his resignation from state RNC role was coerced

Damond Watkins, a member of an illustrious eastern Idaho political family, has enjoyed a storied political career that has seen him earn respect from those at the highest levels of the national Republican Party.

His father, Dane Watkins Sr., is a longtime Idaho Falls businessman who served more than a decade as an Idaho state senator. His brother, Dane Watkins Jr., was elected Bonneville County prosecutor three times before becoming a 7th Judicial District judge, where he has been elected four times.

Damond Watkins grew up attending Republican National Conventions with his father and brother, but his interest in government and politics focused more on the background. He served as a Senate page, both in Boise and Washington, D.C., was elected student body president at the University of Utah, interned in the Clinton White House and spent years climbing through the ranks of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee, eventually becoming chairman.

In January 2010, the state GOP unanimously voted to appoint him as national committeeman.

In 2008 and 2012, he helped raise $60 million for presidential candidate Mitt Romney during his runs for the presidency. He later was appointed by President Donald Trump to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.

A sudden resignation

So it was a surprise to see a June 26 news release from the Idaho Republican Party announcing Watkins’ resignation from his national committeeman role. The release’s laudatory tone reflected the tenor of his tenure.

It said Watkins had “played a pivotal role in shaping our party’s vision and driving positive change” and that the party expressed its “gratitude for his service and contributions over the years …”

However, beneath those glossy descriptions was a not-so-secret monthslong effort by some in the party to force Watkins out.

Two former chairmen of the Idaho Republican Party — Trent Clark and Tom Luna — filed a request June 29 with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to “investigate the unethical and what we believe to be illegal actions that led to the coerced ‘resignation’ of Damond Watkins.”

Watkins’ detractors claim he has moved out of state and, thereby, vacated his national committeeman seat under party rules.

Watkins told the Post Register that Idaho Falls remains his home and that the July 2022 purchase of a residence in Oak Ridge, North Carolina, was for a second home to allow him to be closer to his wife’s family in the southeast and receive medical treatment from one of the nation’s top surgeons for his continued recovery from a 2013 plane crash that broke his back. His family had been living with him in a North Carolina hotel.

“When you start looking at long winters, I have 9 inches of titanium in my spine from the plane crash,” Watkins said.

He said he spends more time in Idaho than in North Carolina.

Watkins said the North Carolina purchase came after he and his wife received a generous, unsolicited offer on their home on Solstice Way in Idaho Falls. For several reasons, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse. They sold the home and temporarily moved some of their furniture into his parents’ home in Idaho Falls, he said.

In Idaho Falls, he said he resides in a home on 11th Street that belonged to his grandmother. He and his wife have been renovating the house with the intent of making it their retirement home, he said.

On Aug. 3, Watkins received a phone call from Mark Fuller, then-chairman of the Bonneville County GOP.

Watkins said Fuller told him he wanted to talk about his residency, “because it’s come up in our Central Committee, and there’s some questions about it.”

That night, Watkins transferred his voter registration online from the home on Solstice Way to his parents’ home.

“My voter registration … (had) been there before,” he said. “I’ve got mail there. … I’ve got furniture that’s over there that we packed up. A lot of our furniture is still here in Idaho Falls, waiting for this house to be done.”

What the law says

Idaho law makes allowances for residents in such circumstances, whether they be snowbirds, students, missionaries or oil field workers so long as they “present intention of returning after a departure or absence therefrom, regardless of the duration of absence.” The Idaho Voter Registration Form says that to vote in Idaho, you must “have resided in Idaho and in the county for 30 days prior to the day of election.”

Bonneville County Clerk Penny Manning told the Post Register her office received a voter registration challenge last summer regarding Watkins and that it was in the process of removing him from the voter rolls when he re-registered at a different address, which people do all the time.

“That’s not an unusual thing,” Manning said. “Due to the information that he provided, we had no reason to believe that he was not eligible to register.”

“From the election side of things, you have to be registered at your primary place of residence, and that’s actually the determination of the voter,” Manning continued. “… In situations such as this, it may mean that you intend to return to Bonneville County or it is your primary place of residence. You can’t ever vote in another state or another area, or that cancels out your voter registration.”

A change in approach

Once the voter registration challenge failed, the efforts to remove Watkins from his party role took a different tack.

In September, Idaho GOP Chairwoman Dorothy Moon received a petition signed by 61 members of the State Central Committee from 22 counties asking her to “call, within 10 days of the receipt of this petition, for a special meeting of the State Central Committee to consider declaring the National Committeeman position vacant or alternatively, removal of National Committeeman Damond Watkins.”

The petition, written by Bonneville County GOP State Committeeman Bryan Smith, alleged that Watkins moved to North Carolina, missed multiple Idaho state GOP meetings, was absent at the August 2022 National Committee Meeting, did not vote in the May 2022 Republican primary and updated his voter registration to his father’s address.

The petition included a copy of the deed to the Oak Ridge, North Carolina home, that stated, “The hereinafter described property did [X] did not [ ] constitute Grantor’s primary residence.”

Watkins said the claims were either untrue or exaggerated.

“I was elected to serve the state of Idaho at the national level, and in 13 years I’ve only missed five meetings,” Watkins said. “These meetings are expensive. (Idaho GOP National Committeewoman) Cindy (Siddoway) and I pay $9,000 to $13,000 a year to participate in the meetings and we’re never reimbursed.”

As required by Idaho GOP rules, Moon called for a special meeting of the Idaho State GOP Committee on Jan. 7 to consider the petition.

A right to due process

In December, in advance of the meeting, the Republican National Committee sent a letter to Moon, stating “we are deeply concerned that efforts to remove him (Watkins) might not be done in accordance with IDGOP rules” and that “any removal would need to be done in accordance with IDGOP rules following Robert’s Rules of Order.”

At the January special meeting, state GOP 1st Vice Chairman Daniel Silver hired Al Gage, a Certified Professional Parliamentarian who has consulted with the Republican National Committee, to attend and review the state committee’s actions.

Gage issued a 17-page opinion that found that the proceeding broke multiple party rules and violated Watkins’ due process rights.

“… There were no charges brought against him in advance,” Gage wrote “… (There) was no prior investigating committee to support the charges, … the meeting was not held in executive session, … (and) the State (Central) Committee does not have the authority to remove the National Committeeman from office. … Only the State Convention has this authority under the current rules.”

Following the January meeting, Moon hired an investigative committee led by Chris Troupis, part of the ultraconservative wing of the state Republican Party who handled the closed primary issue in Idaho.

Watkins said he was not informed of the rules of engagement, who was on the committee or whether he would have an opportunity to defend himself.

A showdown in Challis

That investigation came to a head at the state GOP’s summer meeting last month in Challis, where Watkins was scheduled to speak June 24.

Twenty minutes before Watkins was set to take the podium, he said Moon and Troupis pulled him aside.

“Dorothy looks me in the eye and says, ‘I need to talk to you,’” Watkins said.

He said he was led outside to the back of the building where Troupis was holding a report titled, “The Investigative Report.”

He said the committee members had met in secret and they were going to release this committee report to the entire central committee. He said they had boxes of the reports ready to distribute to the central committee. He said they told him, “We’ve got you dead rights.”

“What do you mean?” Watkins asked.

Watkins said they told him they had a recording of him speaking at his church in North Carolina, “thank(ing) the ward out there for allowing my family to plant our roots into that ward.”

Watkins was shocked that he’d been recorded at church.

“Churches are places of worship not to be used as places of political sabotage,” Watkins told the Post Register.

He said he asked for a copy of the report, but that Moon refused.

“She says, ‘No, you can have a copy when everybody else gets a copy in 20 minutes — clock’s ticking.’”

The Post Register requested a copy of the investigative report, but Moon refused to provide it.

Watkins said Moon told him his friends had turned against him, including his former boss, Melaleuca Executive Chairman Frank VanderSloot.

He said she told him that “Everybody, when they see the truth, what’s in this report, they’re going to drop you like flies.”

“The big jugular for me was when she said, ‘You think Frank is your friend? He’s going to drop you like a fly. In fact, Frank’s told me that anything that comes out of your mouth should be disavowed,’” Watkins said.

“I’m getting emotional at this point, because … after the (plane) accident when I wake up from that surgery, I’m in the ICU, my wife’s on the floor … and Frank is next to me holding my hand, you know?” he said. “I had a moment of weakness, and I said, ‘Dorothy, what do you want?’”

Watkins said Moon told him, “I want you to resign. Make it go away. If you resign right now, this report will go away.”

A distraught Watkins opened up his phone, “… I sent a text message saying ‘I resign.’” Then he got in his car and drove back to Idaho Falls.

When contacted by the Post Register, VanderSloot issued a statement denying he spoke ill of Watkins to Moon.

“I have tremendous respect for Damond. I have heard of the statements that Dorothy Moon claims that I made about Damond. I refute them. Damond no longer works for me, so he is no longer our spokesperson, but I have the highest regard for him. I think what Dorothy Moon and her team did to Damond was abhorrently wrong, immoral, and dishonest. It’s extremely sad to me to see any leader stoop to these levels. It’s especially sad to me to see this happening in the Idaho Republican Party. We are better than this.”

Watkins told the Post Register his resignation came under duress.

No do-overs

The Idaho GOP news release praising Watkins was issued two days later.

However, not everyone was buying it, and Watkins’ silence in the days that followed was curious.

“The current leadership of the Idaho Republican Party has waged a relentless campaign to remove Damond Watkins as Idaho’s National Committeeman,” Luna and Clark wrote in their June 29 letter. “They must be held accountable for their actions which we believe are clearly contrary to rule and proper procedure.”

But the letter was for naught.

On July 14, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, RNC General Counsel Michael Whatley and RNC Chief Counsel Matthew Raymer sent a letter to Watkins in response.

“We understand there has been a concerted effort to remove you from your position as NCM, and that you have disputed both the purported grounds for that removal as well as whether your state party’s rules properly have been followed by those seeking your removal. We understand further that you recently resigned in writing via text message to IDGOP Chairwoman Moon, but that you now seek to rescind your resignation on the grounds that you did so under duress,” they wrote.

“After consultation with our parliamentarian, from the RNC’s standpoint, your written resignation to your state party chair is dispositive, and you are no longer the NCM as of its effective date.”

In an interview with the Post Register, Moon disagreed with the representation of events portrayed in Luna and Clark’s letter. “(Watkins) resigned from his position because he lives in North Carolina. Period. The evidence from this investigative committee proved that. This is all misinformation. That is an absolute lie.”

When asked about what happened in the June 24 conversation, she said, “I’m not going to share with you. … When he resigned, he did not want the report out. He goes, ‘I’m going to resign’ because he knew that the report was very damning. … Some of this isn’t anybody’s business. It’s a private club.”

In the June 26 news release the Idaho GOP said that according to state party bylaws, Moon would call a special meeting of the State Central Committee in the next 30 days to fill the national committeeman vacancy.

The meeting will be held July 29 in Boise, Moon said. So far, she said, Bryan Smith is the only candidate she is aware of who is on the

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