BOISE — Raul Labrador has made it official: He is running for governor of Idaho.
Labrador, who represents Idaho’s First Congressional District, filed his paperwork to run May 9.
The Republican and prominent House Freedom Caucus member has been mulling a run publicly for more than a year. He joins current Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Boise developer Tommy Ahlquist and former state Sen. Russ Fulcher in the GOP primary field.
Labrador said in a statement he would make a formal announcement in the coming weeks.
“Idaho needs a proven conservative leader who will stand against the special interests and politicians that have picked the winners and losers in our state Capitol for too long,” he said. “Idaho needs a strong leader who will make government fair for everyone. Idaho needs a governor who will provide a new vision, a new approach and new leadership.”
Little released a statement touting Idaho’s economic and job growth and crediting it to Idaho’s “conservative Republican leadership.”
“Idaho is not Washington D.C., and I would like to welcome Congressman Labrador back home to the place where we balance our budget and conservative ideals guide us each day,” Little said. “Idahoans, including myself, look forward to hearing from Congressman Labrador about the accomplishments he has made while being in Congress for over six years.”
“I welcome Congressman Labrador to the race and look forward to a spirited campaign,” Ahlquist said. “The congressman will bring his experience in Washington, D.C., to the race, and I am excited to continue sharing my conservative message of building an even better Idaho with a fresh approach and new ideas. I look forward to seeing the congressman on the campaign trail.”
Labrador, whose congressional district snakes from Owyhee County to the Canadian border, was in the state Legislature before being elected to Congress in 2010 and both he and Fulcher, who primaried incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter from the right in 2014, are popular among the more conservative wing of the state party. Otter is not running for another term.
Fulcher released a statement calling Labrador a friend and wishing him the best.
“In 2014, he endorsed me in my race for governor, stating he supported me because of my ‘political courage and fresh ideas,’” Fulcher said. “He said that I would ‘work to reduce our dependence on Washington, D.C., make the tax code more competitive, reduce regulation, and give Idaho the chance to fulfill its promise.’ I suspect he still believes that.”
So far, those Magic Valley lawmakers who have made their preference publicly known have gotten behind Little.
“I think he’s done a good job and I think he’ll be an excellent governor,” said Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls.
Hartgen predicted Otter, who has repeatedly expressed interest in a job with the Trump administration, will step down before the primary to give Little a leg up.
“I’ll make you a prediction, on the day the Legislature convenes in January it’ll be Brad Little who will be giving the State of the State,” Hartgen said.
Hartgen praised Ahlquist’s professional accomplishments, but said he doesn’t think he has the right experience to run the state. He also said he likes Labrador personally but doesn’t understand why he would run for governor given his “great future” in Congress.
“I think Labrador will … be a very entertaining and provocative candidate, but I think he’ll mostly take votes away from Fulcher,” Hartgen said.
The Magic Valley’s congressman, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, has had a contentious relationship with Labrador. Simpson was a friend and ally of former House Speaker John Boehner, who the Freedom Caucus forced out, and Simpson’s deal-making instincts don’t mesh well with the Freedom Caucus’s emphasis on ideological purity. Simpson is also backing Little.
“I think you’ve got to have a governor that can work with the Legislature and understands that government is in large part compromise, and I’ve never seen that demonstrated (by Labrador),” Simpson said Tuesday. “Brad obviously understand that. He’s done that for a long time, being lieutenant governor and being a senator and I’ve watched him work and I think he does a great job.”
Simpson was critical of the farther-right wing of his party both in Washington and in Boise.
“There’s a difference between causing a big stir and actually doing something,” Simpson said. “The Freedom Caucus causes a big stir. They don’t actually do anything. … That’s the difference between lobbing hand grenades and governing.”
Labrador’s filing comes on the heels of remarks he made at a town hall meeting in Lewiston, while answering a question on the health care bill the House recently passed, that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” This drew national news attention and widespread ridicule on the left and has been rated untrue by fact-checkers.
Labrador has said his remarks were “inelegant” but were taken out of context, because he was saying hospitals are required to provide emergency treatment regardless of whether someone can pay.
Idaho House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, put out a statement focused on Labrador’s health care comments and saying residents “have every right to be scared of what a Raul Labrador administration would do to their lives.” Erpelding also highlighted another recent comment of Labrador’s that has come under fire from the left, at a town hall in Meridian where Labrador said he doesn’t believe health care is a right.
“In light of his recent comments about whether Idahoans should have access to quality health care, I think Raul’s campaign slogan should be, ‘Labrador to Idaho: DROP DEAD!’” Erpelding wrote.
Dean Ferguson, interim executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, said Labrador’s filing was “good news.”
“Raul Labrador was not helping Idahoans,” Ferguson said. “He was back in Washington, D.C., working the talk shows. He’s probably visited Florida to campaign for various presidential candidates more than he’s visited northern Idaho. This is a good day for Idaho, unless he succeeds in the Republican primary, but we’ll rely on our Republican friends to make sure he doesn’t.”
Ferguson said the party had already been contacted by four Democrats interested in running for the seat, but he expects more now that Labrador has filed for governor. One Democrat, Michael Smith, has filed already.
Labrador was first elected in 2010, the tea party wave year when the GOP retook control of the House, beating Democrat Walt Minnick. Since then, he has consistently won re-election by more than 60 percent of the vote.
“When you have an open seat like that it really is a different dynamic,” Ferguson said. “The fact is, Labrador had a certain strength in his base support that his opponents would have to overcome. Without that it becomes a much wider, open race for both Republicans and Democrats.”
In a statement wishing Labrador well, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers didn’t sound worried.
“This is a safe Republican seat and the NRCC is confident it will stay in Republican hands,” he said.
James Rockwell, an investment adviser and former Idaho County Commissioner who lives in Grangeville, is running as a Republican.
“We have a president willing to lead ... on healthcare, on taxes, on terrorism, on the national debt, on free speech, on term limits,” Rockwell said in an email. “So much common sense and so little time. We Republicans have a once-in-a-generation opportunity at excellence. I want to help.”
Assistant Idaho House Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said he plans to “help Raul become governor,” and won’t run for the soon-to-be vacant congressional seat.
“I look forward to working with him in the House and that’s going to be an awesome experience,” Crane said.
Crane said Labrador’s previous experience in the statehouse would be an asset.
“I think there’s some bright days ahead for Idaho,” Crane said.
Crane’s father, state Treasurer Ron Crane, looked at running against Minnick but instead ended up co-chairing Labrador’s campaign along with now-Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. Crane, who isn’t running for another term as treasurer, said he hasn’t decided yet whether to run for Congress but is keeping his options open.
“I just happen to think that Congressman Labrador has done an excellent job as First District congressman, and I want to see that legacy is continued, that the conservative principles he espoused continue to be fulfilled,” Crane said.