Judging by some of the statewide political commentaries that rail against Republicans, one might get the impression that Idaho is a legitimate two-party state – and a toss-up in any presidential election.
It’s almost as if Cecil Andrus still is governor and Democrats have a split majority in the Idaho Senate, which was a crowning achievement for the Dems during the Andrus years. As the commentators lecture us, no clear-thinking Idahoan can possibly embrace a platform that favors tax cuts for the rich, brands affordable health care as a socialist plot against America and agrees to pay teachers poverty wages.
Of course, those writers don’t spend much time in Bonner County or places like Midvale, where folks would rather vote for Korean dictator Kim Jong Un than a Democrat.
Ah, but the sages tell us that a new day is coming, and Republicans face certain doom with former Congressman Raul Labrador as the new state party chair. We’re reminded about all the bad things Labrador said about Gov. Brad Little during last year’s gubernatorial primary and the frosty relationship Labrador had with Congressman Mike Simpson.
Soothsayers suggest that a divided Republican party, which is becoming more conservative by the day, might leave an opening for Democrats.
Don’t believe any of that garbage. Labrador will be a unifying force for Republicans and the Democratic Party’s worst nightmare in next year’s election. Unlike other party chairmen over the years, Labrador is a household name in Idaho politics and he knows something about winning elections.
Is he conservative? Absolutely. This is a guy who fought against a two-cent gas tax when he served in the Legislature. During his congressional days, Labrador was a charter member of the House Freedom Caucus, which viewed John Boehner as too liberal and was instrumental in kicking him out as House Speaker. During his run for governor, he talked about turning state government upside down – to the joy of the “liberty” legislators in the Idaho House. Basically, there’s not a “moderate” bone in his body.
But Labrador is in a much different role as the state party chairman. Sure, he cares about getting more conservatives elected in Idaho, but he’s more interested in seeing Republicans of any ideological stripe winning. Any state GOP chairman in the nation gladly would give full support to a popular governor, such as Little, or a senior member of House Appropriations, such as Simpson. Labrador is no exception.
“My job is to help them get re-elected,” Labrador said.
Little and Simpson can win elections without Labrador’s help, but neither one will run away from the chairman’s support.
“I’ve always said in the Freedom Caucus and in the Legislature that conservatives need to concentrate more on the open seats,” Labrador said. “As a party, we can be divided during primaries, but we must come together for the general election and elect Republicans. We have been doing that effectively in Idaho for many years.”
As for the governor, Labrador said, “I’ve had two great meetings with him, once before I ran for chairman and once after that. He has agreed to help raise money for the party and I’m excited to work with him.”
Labrador is no stranger to criticism from the left. “I’ve been attacked by the left-wing media for the last 12 years of my life. It’s interesting to see the liberal shrill voices that are harping in the media, but the thing is nobody is listening to them. They seem to be lecturing about how they are much smarter than the people of Idaho.”
One thing about Labrador is that he has done all he said he would do, and more – driving liberals nuts in the process. I don’t always agree with his stands, or approaches, but he at least has stayed true to his word. You can believe him when he pledges to put all his energy into this thankless job as chairman.
“My No. 1 concern is that Republicans will become lackadaisical and assume that Idaho can never turn purple,” Labrador said. “Obviously, we’re a long way from that, but we can’t let up.”
In next year’s election, it’s a good bet that Idaho will continue to have an all-Republican delegation and strong majorities in chambers of the Legislature. And with Labrador stirring things up as chairman, people in my line of work will continue having plenty to write about.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at email@example.com