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Colley: Will Yantis shooting influence gov race?

Brad Little has annoyed some ranchers. Never mind Little knows a thing or two about the ranching lifestyle. The lieutenant governor isn’t the choice for advancement among ranchers, according to one Idahoan. The man telephoned my radio show and explained the ranching community smells conspiracy and corruption after one of their own was killed. The caller is referring to Adams County rancher Jack Yantis. A pair of Adams County sheriff’s deputies shot Yantis one very confusing evening almost two years ago.

One of the rancher’s prized bulls had been struck on a highway in open range country. Yantis had been summoned and when he arrived with a rifle in some confusion of the moment he was gunned down. There were multiple witnesses interviewed by state police. No one solid narrative of events emerged. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden declined to criminally charge the deputies (I’ll come back to this).

I fail to see Brad Little’s connection to the case. The lieutenant governor and attorney general are independently elected by the voters in Idaho. It’s not like Little can call the A.G. and apply pressure in a case, and I’m not sure Little would find any reason for pressure following the killing of Yantis. I’m also crunching some numbers for next year’s Republican Primary for governor.

Last year more than 600,000 votes were cast in a historic general election. Primaries bring out only one party, and according to records, far fewer voters. I’ll pick a number from the ether. A turnout next May among Republicans of 120,000 would be a good day. Will the ranching vote swing the result? By sheer size ranches are vast swaths of real estate and sparsely populated. The overall number of Republican ranchers is dwarfed by votes in Ada and Canyon Counties alone. Assuming all Republican ranchers voted for anyone but Little I’m not sure it tips the outcome in a three-way contest. Considering some or even many Republican ranchers vote for one of their own, Brad Little, the opposition is even more diluted. If the opposition splits its choice for Tommy Ahlquist and Raul Labrador, it’s even a smaller threat to the lieutenant governor.

At some point all three candidates are going to be questioned about Yantis and the two Adams County deputies. Having been exposed to politicians on a daily basis for 35 years, I expect all three will echo the attorney general. It was a tragedy born of confusion.

Some people in the Yantis camp are making a mightily big assumption in believing a conviction of the law enforcers would’ve been a slam dunk. The Yantis family offered a view of events to investigators, and I don’t blame them for seeing injustice when it comes to a loved one, which makes a point. A good trial lawyer would exploit the testimony of blood relation and not in their favor. This isn’t an endorsement. We all know how the judicial system works. Mr. Wasden could’ve spent a fortune on the case and without testimony in agreement from several dozen witnesses, what’s the outcome?

You can also lay money on a defense attorney bringing up the toxicology report. Yantis’s blood alcohol content was above 0.1 when he died. The attorney general made it clear it’s not a crime to be drunk at home, but if I was hired to defend the deputies I know I’d make it an issue. An inebriated man with a rifle? When I brought this up on my radio show some months ago, my boss received an angry email. The writer claimed if Yantis wasn’t dead he would come to the radio station and throw me a beating. The author didn’t see the irony in claiming his friend would commit a lawless act.

I think it’s also safe to say there are a great many people who don’t like anyone in uniform and ascribe evil intentions. In a separate case being argued this month, a fellow who was an investigator with Idaho State Police is claiming he was told to go softly on a deputy involved in a fatal collision while racing to a call. But you still can’t maintain the deputy got out of bed one morning with plans to kill someone in a crash! Was it negligent? Possibly. On the other hand I saw a video posted this week by the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Department. Law enforcement is instructed to pass on the left. When the rest of us are taught to drive we’re told to move to the right. Which brings me back to a point. You can’t generally get a conviction on charges if there are reasonable doubts, and I think especially if you can’t show malice.

Having grown up in a neighborhood surrounded by law enforcers I can tell you most shared the same interests as everyone else. They had families, coached baseball and liked time at home away from work. A few weeks ago a former Twin Falls Police officer shared with me a neighbor poisoned his dog out of spite for anyone in uniform. It seems some people always have trouble with the law, and in their minds it’s never their fault. Then there are the people who live long lives and never have any trouble with police. I can’t say it’s because the latter are better looking, because I’ve managed to get through almost six decades without a serious confrontation. And I drink.


Columnists
IDAHO VIEW
Idaho view: President Kustra: Gov. Labrador is on line 1

This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:

If you want to glimpse into what kind of governor Congressman Raul Labrador might be, consider his dustup with Boise State University President Bob Kustra.

Irked at the BSU president, the Idaho Republican took a page from President Donald Trump’s playbook and told a radio audience Monday that under a Labrador administration, Kustra more or less would be handed his walking papers.

When it comes to pushing people’s buttons, Kustra is no slouch himself. It was only seven years ago he opened fire at the University of Idaho and Moscow for fostering a “culture that is nasty, inebriated and civilly doesn’t give our fans the respect that any fan should expect when visiting an away team.”

And in the midst of his Aug. 16 State of the University address, Kustra pushed Labrador’s—berating the congressman’s belated response to the parade of racists that erupted into violence at Charlottesville, Va., four days earlier.

Labrador had it coming.

The Idaho Republican had whined about being pulled into the discussion, and expressed equal contempt for “white supremacy ... black nationalism and other forms of identity politics.”

Countered Kustra: “And it’s like, ‘let me Google that.’ When you Google ‘black nationalism’ it takes you back to the 1960s and ‘70s. (That’s) a movement that I won’t go into, but the fact is (black nationalism) has nothing to do with what happened last weekend.”

Kustra wasn’t the first or the last to call out Labrador for his statement. But it’s out of character for Idaho’s timid higher education leadership to challenge the political establishment.

In Labrador, you have someone who can be notoriously thin-skinned and not averse to blowing his stack on live radio. Two years ago, Congressman Mike Simpson’s rebuke regarding a budget bill provoked Labrador into castigating his seat mate as an “establishment” politician who “loves to go out drinking and smoking” with GOP leaders while lying to the voters.

This time, Labrador unleashed a full volley at Kustra: He was a carpetbagger from Illinois. At 74 and after 14 years at BSU, he had overstayed his welcome.

“It’s interesting when you have a 60-something white male from a liberal state trying to tell me, a young Hispanic male, how I should react to racism,” said Labrador, who moved to the Gem State in 1995 after attending schools in Nevada and Washington. “I thought it was very inappropriate what he did. Maybe it’s time for him to go. It’s time for him to decide that it’s somebody else’s turn. It should be somebody else’s turn to, you know, lead BSU.”

Governors have had differences with campus leaders before. Gov. Cecil Andrus was no fan of former UI President Elisabeth Zinser. Andrus’ predecessor, Don Samuelson, was unhappy with the student unrest of the 1960s and the college presidents who presided over it.

What’s new is exposing this animosity.

Should Labrador—as many expect—secure his party’s nomination next spring and then take office, his tirade would take on a gubernatorial imprimatur.

University presidents do not serve at the pleasure of the governor; they answer to the State Board of Education. Labrador would have to bide his time, waiting for the opportunity to replace Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s appointees on that panel.

But he would have a great deal to say about Kustra’s budget, especially over capital spending. Labrador could pressure the BSU leader into making an exit—even if it creates more instability at a time when Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College would be transitioning toward new leadership.

Not only does Labrador risk alienating the thousands of Treasure Valley voters whose automobiles sport the BSU Broncos logo—but anyone else who cares about higher education.

How does this make sense politically?

Having a temper tantrum in public—whether it’s a congressman or the president of the United States who is doing it—never does.

So you’re left to wonder: When Labrador was campaigning beside Trump last fall, who rubbed off on whom?