Jonathan Parker, the newly-elected chairman of the state Republican Party, is in that position partly – if not, largely – because of his friendly nature and ability to work with all the splintered factions of the GOP. In other words, he’s very good at herding cats.
But don’t be fooled by all this congeniality. When it comes to competition, whether it’s on the golf course or in the heat of an election campaign, there’s an inferno burning inside Parker. That’s not good news for Democrats trying to make even modest gains in a general election.
We’ve been friends since 2006 when he was managing Norm Semanko’s unsuccessful congressional campaign and I was writing press releases for former Sen. Sheila Sorenson. Later that year, we worked together on Donna Jones’ successful campaign for state controller – who, by the way, won her race by the widest margin of any Republican on the state ballot. The tight ship he put together in the final months of that campaign had a lot to do with her resounding victory.
Since that campaign, I’ve seen his “competitive side” a number of times on the golf course, where he hits the ball a mile and typically scores somewhere in the 70s.
His competitive drive seems high for a preacher’s son who attended a Bible college, with intentions of going into the ministry. But that drive for Jonathan goes beyond politics and golf. He played football for the Idaho Vandals as an undersized wide receiver, competing with those who had far more athletic ability. He had to be tough just to survive practices, and playing one year under the toughest of coaches – Tom Cable, the longtime line coach with the Seattle Seahawks.
Semanko saw plenty of fire from Jonathan during his run for Congress.
“In 2006, Jonathan was the best campaign manager and had probably the worst candidate,” Semanko said. “He took someone with less than 1 percent name ID and turned him into a candidate that got 12 percent in a six-way primary and finished above a sitting state senator. That was a lot of Jonathan’s planning, execution and strategy.”
Parker, as you might expect, is a different person in a social setting. He’s quick with a smile and quicker with a laugh. Conversations typically end with, “Go Vandals” – at least, when he’s around old UI alums.
State party chairmanships often are reserved for political veterans who have been around the block a few times in state or congressional politics. Parker, who at 37 is the youngest Idaho chairman in memory, breaks that mold. But he’s much more seasoned than his age reflects. Over the years, he has worked with Skip Smyser’s lobbying firm and was a state director under former Congressman Bill Sali. He worked as the GOP’s executive director during Semanko’s time as the party chair, and since then has been working as government affairs director for the Holland & Hart law firm.
He spearheaded the GOP’s efforts in 2010 to bring back a Republican to Congress (Rep. Raul Labrador) and win back some legislative seats that had been lost a few years earlier. His goal is to continue with the party’s winning ways – taking nothing for granted and urging supporters to work harder than ever. He doesn’t care what shades Republicans are to the “right” or “center.” All that matters to him is that they have an “R” by their name, and win.
“The 2018 elections will have ramifications for an entire generation,” he said in a letter to fellow Republicans. “Idaho, with its Republican leadership, can continue to grow as an even stronger beacon for free markets, economic opportunity, and thriving families and businesses.”
As detractors might say, “Just what we need in Idaho – more Republicans!” A dynamo such as Parker to lead the GOP charge is akin to the Golden State Warriors, the kings of the NBA, landing LeBron James – just to sew up another championship.
“I can’t think of a better person to help guide us through this competitive primary season and come out of it with as few frayed relationships as possible,” says Semanko.
And Parker will be doing all of that with a firm handshake and a smile on his face.