CHUCK MALLOY: Labrador promises new culture in state politics

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Congressman Raul Labrador’s opponents are saying that people should be nervous about what state government will look like if he becomes governor. In figurative terms, it involves drowning the Idaho Capitol in gasoline and lighting a match.

But Labrador says his intention is not to destroy state government, but to make it better and more efficient. It’s a traditional Republican platform that makes moderates and liberals cringe. But it’s the kind of message that Republicans like to hear in a closed primary election.

His economic plan includes lowering the state’s sales tax, individual and corporate tax rates to 5 percent. It also calls for eliminating the sales tax on groceries, which Republicans have been trying to accomplish for more than a decade. Urban renewal districts throughout the state would do well to take a long vacation under a Labrador administration.

“As governor, I will seek a moratorium on creating new urban renewal districts and stop urban renewal laws from being used as a slush fund for local politicians to reward their private developer friends,” he says.

On the spending side, he’d be looking to cut “government waste” as if he were panning for gold. There’s no question that Labrador will want to cut spending, it’s a matter of how much.

“I want to make sure we do everything efficiently,” he told me. “Something I will do as governor is making sure that every agency is doing exactly what the state Legislature has ordered, and that they have not broadened their scope because they want to expand as an agency.”

Enter the gas can and matches.

Of course, there are different definitions of what constitutes government waste. For example, there’s wide support for the Department of Commerce to promote Idaho and help recruit businesses to the state. But Labrador says the agency function might be handled more effectively, and efficiently, in the governor’s office.

Labrador, no doubt, would find himself at odds with more moderate-thinking legislators. But if there are more like-minded conservatives elected this year, such as Reps. Pricilla Giddings, Dorothy Moon and Bryan Zollinger, then Labrador would have an effective coalition in the Legislature. A few of those conservatives could find themselves in leadership positions.

Either way, Labrador — who served two terms in the House before going to Congress — says he’d look forward to going through the legislative process.

But something he can do, as the state’s top executive, is take a close look at state agencies. Budget experts will say that significant reductions cannot be made without slashing education, which is the ultimate of sacred cows in state government.

“Education is not about funding, but performance,” he says. (Political translation: Those who say education is not about funding generally want to cut funding).

“The myth is we’re about 47th in funding for education, but we’re actually 24th or 25th in performance,” he says. “We have a lot of room for improvement, and we need to do much better. But we’re spending less, and doing more, than a lot of states.”

He has two conservative templates for what he wants to accomplish — one that has gone the wrong direction. “Kansas cut taxes and didn’t do anything with the budget. North Carolina reduced taxes, reduced spending and got rid of loopholes in the tax system. I’m going to follow the example of North Carolina.”

Labrador, who was widely disliked by some of the high-powered statehouse lobbyists during his time in the Legislature, probably will be even more disliked if he wins the governor’s race. He says he’s looking to “dismantle the establishment” and “break the cycle of cronyism” in government. “The reality is we have a state that has been controlled by four or five people in downtown Boise who have ingratiated themselves in the lives of every establishment politician.”

Establishment types may loathe Labrador, but they should never underestimate him. He went to Congress seven years ago, promising to shake up things, and he did all of that. Labrador was one of the founding members of the conservative-based House Freedom Caucus and played a pivotal role in removing John Boehner as House speaker. So, people should pay attention when he says he’ll give state government a serious facelift.

One thing is for certain if Labrador wins. His State of the State address would be a “must watch” for Idahoans.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.

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