OPINION: Labrador looks ahead, but not too far
| August 17, 2022 1:00 AM
Former Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador is a politician who is loathed by his detractors and practically idolized by his supporters to the right. There is little room for neutrality.
That’s because Labrador is bold and brash. He makes campaign pitches about shaking up government, then carries out his promises when elected — with beauty being in the eyes of the beholder. So while his Republican supporters were celebrating his primary victory over longtime Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in May, detractors are dreading the prospect of him running for governor in four years.
Welcome to a day in the life of Raul Labrador.
“I don’t think there are many doubters about my ability to do the job (as attorney general). They’re worried about what I’m going to do four years from now,” Labrador told me.
But Labrador says he’s not thinking about four years from now. His immediate priorities are winning an election in November and meeting the lofty goals he has for the office.
“We have a very large attorney general’s office, and we are going to be the best law firm in the state of Idaho,” he says. “Right now, it’s the largest law firm, and my goal is to be the best law firm — with the best lawyers, the best staff and the best people in that office, representing the people of Idaho.”
It’s not going to be easy. Wasden has held the office for 20 years, and Labrador says changes will be made. And he will be judged by the quality of his work, which is something that he welcomes.
Labrador came to the Idaho House of Representatives in 2007, pledging to carry the conservative torch. He ended up being a lead player in the Legislature’s rejection of then-Gov. Butch Otter’s call for a gas-tax increase to meet infrastructure needs. Three years later, he defeated a Democratic incumbent (Walt Minnick) for the First District congressional seat and promised to shake up things in Washington. He was one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus, which called out some Republicans for not standing by their conservative principles. That group was instrumental in changing the GOP’s leadership in the House.
Now, he’s promising to take on the Biden administration on abortion and other issues that he perceives as interfering with Idaho’s sovereignty. He expects to have Gov. Brad Little at his side during some of those challenges, although he notes that the governor’s support is not necessary.
“I will be an aggressive attorney general in representing the values of the people of Idaho. The majority of the people agree with these values that I espoused as a congressman and through my campaigns,” he said. “I am aggressive, and that’s why I have been successful in Idaho politics.”
Labrador is a politician, and he doesn’t deny it. On a personal level, he can be engaging, quick with a smile and funny. Generally, he seemed to be well liked by his colleagues during his time in the Idaho House and he often worked with Democrats on some issues in Congress.
When discussing his accomplishments in Congress, he leads off with constituent service — helping Idahoans wade through the bureaucracy.
“Some of my favorite letters were from Democrats who thanked me for my help, but said they would never vote for me,” Labrador said, chuckling. “That’s what being a public servant is all about — to help people with their needs.”
He scoffs at the notion that Idaho will get stuck with large legal bills, and frivolous lawsuits, if he wins the office. “If elected officials trust you when you give them legal advice, they are less likely to make mistakes that are costly to the state. You will see fewer instances of those mistakes.”
That is, if he’s elected. Democrat Tom Arkoosh, a longtime attorney, is mounting an aggressive campaign against Labrador with the help of some longtime Republican officeholders — including former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and former Attorney General (and Supreme Court Justice) Jim Jones. Labrador claims his opponent also is getting a boost from the “liberal” media.
“The Democrats get someone who registers as a Republican to vote against me, then registers as a Democrat to run against me,” Labrador said. “And he accuses me of being too political.”
It will be an interesting race to follow, for sure. The dust storm has just gotten started.
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Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com.