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OPINION: The IPTV debates have disclosed the serious candidates

by JIM JONES/Special to The Press
| April 29, 2022 11:16 AM

The Idaho Public Television debate among the three Republican candidates for attorney general produced some unsettling takeaways. For one, it appeared that Art Macomber and Raul Labrador were more intent on running against Gov. Brad Little than challenging incumbent Lawrence Wasden.

Phil McGrane demonstrated in the latest debate that he clearly understands the Secretary of State’s duties and is best qualified to serve in that office. That is why he has the full support of Ben Ysursa, who served with distinction in that office for 27 years as Chief Deputy to Pete Cenarrusa and then as Secretary of State for 12 years.

I’ve known Phil’s family for decades — his grandfather was highly respected as the financial officer at the Idaho Falls livestock auction and his dad is a friend. Phil comes from strong roots. He has earned the respect of election officials across the state for running clean, efficient elections in Idaho’s most populated county. His election expertise clearly came through during the debate.

Phil’s two opponents spent their debate time obsessing about election fraud, without producing an iota of evidence that it occurs in Idaho. The short answer is that it does not. County clerks told the Legislature as much during this year’s session. Stirring up concern about problems that don’t exist does not speak well for either of Phil’s opponents.

Sherri Ybarra, the incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, and challenger Debbie Critchfield both came off in the debate as serious candidates for that position. On the other hand, Branden Durst cemented his reputation as a hot-headed conspiracy theorist.

Even though substantial efforts have been made by Durst and his Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) backers to ferret out instances of critical race theory (CRT) in Idaho, they have come up empty. The claim that CRT exists in Idaho is merely an IFF ploy to discredit Idaho’s public schools. If elected to office, Durst would do his level best to sabotage Idaho’s public school system in hopes of replacing it with proprietary private schools, including online schooling. That is one of the IFF’s main agenda items.

When Raul Labrador began his debate pitch asserting that the Attorney General’s job is mainly political, it caught my attention. I had just signed onto an op-ed issued by Idaho’s six living Attorneys General, stating just the opposite. Former Attorneys Tony Park, Wayne Kidwell, Dave Leroy, me, Larry Echo Hawk and Al Lance, who collectively served as Idaho’s AG for 32 years, stated unequivocally in the op-ed that the AG is a legal official, bound by oath to be the State’s non-political legal adviser. The AG’s credibility depends on not acting like a political hack.

The wise individuals who drafted the Idaho Constitution in 1889 envisioned the office as the source of sound legal advice to state government. None of the drafters mentioned a political role for the AG. Politically skewed legal advice is not ethical in either private law practice or public practice. It is a good way to mislead a client into serious legal trouble.

The AG’s office argues many more cases to Idaho’s appellate courts than any other litigant in the State. Most are appeals by criminals but there are also heavy-duty civil cases — cases that involve important policy issues or large sums of taxpayers’ dollars. If Idaho courts regard the AG’s office as being infested with political operatives, the State’s interests will suffer. Lawrence Wasden has established a solid record of competence — a record of standing up for the rule of law rather than the rule of politics, as the debate clearly demonstrated.

Thanks to IPTV for performing a valuable public service by hosting the debates. Folks who were not able to watch the live debates can catch them on the IPTV website. Thank goodness that the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its supporters have been unable to deprive IPTV of state funding.

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Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as a Justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is currently a regular contributor to The Hill online news. He blogs at JJCommonTater.

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