TWIN FALLS — Raul Labrador wants to shake things up in Boise.
The way he sees it, you might not agree with him, but you know where he stands.
“You know with me exactly what you’re going to get,” the 1st District congressman and candidate to be Idaho’s next governor told the Times-News editorial board Tuesday.
Labrador is one of the most prominent members of the federal House Freedom Caucus and much of his support among state political figures comes from the farther-right wing of the legislative GOP. He laid out a number of areas where his policies would differ sharply from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and from many Republicans in the Legislature.
If Labrador wins, one of his first acts would be to ask every state agency head to resign and reapply for their jobs. He would also spend the 2019 legislative session trying to get his “5-5-5” plan through — 5 percent flat corporate and individual income tax rates and a 5 percent sales tax, while also getting rid of many of the existing tax exemptions.
Labrador wants government to create a business-friendly tax and regulatory environment but “stay out of the way and not pick winners and losers.” He opposes the use of tax breaks to draw specific businesses, a position he admits could run into opposition in the Magic Valley, which has had success in recent years using incentives to lure major industries. He favors curtailing many of the current responsibilities of the state Department of Commerce and bringing them into the governor’s office.
“The state should stay out of the business of choosing which companies should come,” he said.
Labrador, who was a state House member from Eagle before being elected to Congress in 2010, is running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Treasure Valley developer and doctor Tommy Ahlquist, in what is shaping up to be an expensive and hotly contested primary race. Otter is not running for another term. The primary is in May.
Labrador believes using fuel tax and registration fees to fund transportation is not sustainable and that the state should start using some general fund money on roads and bridges. This is an issue on which Republicans in Boise are split — while some agree with Labrador, others, including Otter, support a “user pay” system rather than having transportation compete for other dollars.
Labrador suggested dedicating sales tax revenue from sales of tires and automobile parts to transportation. While he generally opposes local-option taxes, he said he might support ones to pay for specific local transportation needs. When he was in the state House, he advocated allowing local option registration fees.
Idaho is one of the few Republican-run states to have created its own health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act, rather than using the federal market. More than 100,000 people are insured through Your Health Idaho, and most of them pay for it with federal tax credits.
Labrador said he opposed creating the exchange — another big difference from Otter, who opposes the ACA but has been a strong proponent of the exchange. Labrador didn’t say he would abolish it but didn’t rule it out. He doesn’t think it has succeeded in keeping insurance costs down.
“Now that it’s in place I’m going to have to look at it pretty closely,” he said.
Labrador would like to see the ACA repealed, and voted for the American Health Care Act that passed the House in May. While this has been a goal of most Republicans since the bill passed, efforts to dismantle it have stalled in the face of GOP infighting and unanimous Democratic opposition. Failing that, Labrador would at least like to see smaller changes at the federal level such as letting states opt out of some regulations and extending antitrust laws to cover insurance companies. He said the Trump administration’s desire to give states more leeway and his relationship with former congressman and current Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price could help him achieve this as governor.
“I have that personal relationship,” Labrador said. “That really helps.”
On education, Labrador wants to get rid of Common Core standards, which Otter supported, replacing them with a structure that sets basic high standards at the state level but gives school districts more flexibility in how to reach them. He also wants more state support for charter and private schools, saying his mother’s decision to put him in private school got him an education that benefited him in life.
“I credit my success to the (fact) that she put me in private school when I was a young boy,” he said.
He supports a voucher system where dollars would follow students to private schools — including to religious ones, a potentially fraught legal issue due to the state Constitution’s ban on funding for religious institutions. One way around this, Labrador said, would be a system to give tax credits toward scholarships rather than direct support. Also, he said, the Idaho Constitution itself may have to be reexamined in light of a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a church school that was denied funding for playground repairs due to a similar clause in Missouri’s state constitution.
“That’s going to be something we have to look at,” he said. “Does that ruling apply to every other spending at a state level?”
Labrador opposes legalizing marijuana, either for medical or recreational use, but favors allowing wider use of cannabidiol oil for medical purposes and said he would have signed the bill Otter vetoed in 2015 to let people use medical use as a defense if they are arrested with CBD oil. He also opposes mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes. An Idaho bill to repeal mandatory minimums for drug crimes was introduced in 2017 with bipartisan support but didn’t get further than an informational committee hearing. Committee Chairman Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said at the time the issue may come back in 2018.