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A Conservative Perspective

Hartgen: Labrador, Winder represent two strains in Idaho’s GOP

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Former Congressman Raul Labrador and Idaho Senate leader Chuck Winder recently gave two contrasting views of the Idaho Republican Party and where it is headed.

To Winder, who has been increasingly vocal in his defense of traditional Republican principles and civility, the party is dangerously close to being taken over by authoritarian rightists and ideological purists who care more for a checklist of adherences to ideology than for practical solutions.

Labrador sees it differently. He served several terms in Congress before taking on Lt. Gov. Brad Little in 2018 for the governor’s chair. He lost that three-way election and came home to Idaho to survey the political landscape and mark his time. At age 53, he will have plenty of shots at higher office. A few weeks ago, he declared to run against long-time incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. With Janice McGeachin’s gubernatorial campaign now a poster example of “The Walking Dead,” Labrador is likely to inherit the de-facto leadership of Idaho’s rightists.

Labrador was an outspoken member of the House Freedom Caucus while in Congress and many on the right wanted him to be the next Idaho governor. He represents a more ideological strain within the GOP, with a focus more on ideologies, libertarianism, and an often impractical reading of the US and Idaho Constitutions. The caucus recently announced that it would push similar ideologies at the state and local level. (Fox, 12/1)

Winder is no lefty, much less a RINO, but he sees government as an entity to tackle real problems and find solutions, whether it’s in transportation, education or state social services. He looks for ways forward, for improving the state. He doesn’t spend time in theoretical discussions about sovereignty, nullification, much less secession from the national union. To Winder, making Idaho a better place to work and live for our children and grandchildren is paramount.

Their different perspectives is partly a generational shift. Winder, who is in his 70s, spoke of “Idaho’s core values,” identifying them as “faith, family and country” along with lower taxes, a strong business climate, strong schools and school choice. He also highlighted opposition to drug legalization; support for police and other first responders; pushing back against federal regulation while also collaborating where possible to “make our public lands safer and better managed;” and providing opportunities for the next generation in Idaho.” (IdahoPress,11/7)

Labrador, 53, said he believes the future of the Republican Party is strong, pointing to the gubernatorial election in Virginia. “Regular people are looking at how far left the Democratic Party is going and realizing that Republicans believe in small government, in less interference with business, less interference with private decisions between parents and their children in their schools, and they believe in autonomy, and they believe that the government should have as small a role in the lives of individuals as possible,” he said. (IdahoPress, 11/7).

That last phrase is telling. What Labrador means when he says as small a role as possible really comes down to abdication of responsible civic leadership. Under this theory, drugs are okay, prostitution is okay, jails should be emptied, and social programs including education and welfare should be left to the private sector. If individuals suffer, well too bad. And by the way, under this model who pays for the roads to policing, economic development, or schools because these folks don’t want to pay any taxes for anything?

But both are civil leaders and spoke civilly with each other. There was no ranting or personal calumny or insulting remarks. They’re both grown-ups, unlike the juvenile House mice who make points while putting down others. This sneering has driven many common-sense Idaho Republicans out of party politics or at least to the sidelines until these vapors dissipate.

Some of these malcontents see themselves as a new generation of leaders and they think they will get there by painting governor Little and others as befuddled RINOs and toadies of the establishment. This group of includes Heather Scott, Priscilla Giddings, Dorothy Moon, Ron Nate, Kerry Hanks, Tammy Nichols, Chad Christiansen and state Sen. Christy Zito.

They take much of their ideology from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which is partly funded by out-of-state oligarchs who usually want something of monetary value. The new national initiative fits well into their rhetoric as they try to reform American “freedom” in to a mass of slogans.

The presentation by Labrador and Winder in their talk is outlined in detail by Idaho Press reporter Betsy Russell, who includes lengthy quotes from both men in their talk to the Boise City Club. (IdahoPress, 11/7).

Not everyone is as civil as Labrador and Winder were to each other. In county parties across the state, there are often mean-spirited and personal attacks, mostly from the libertarians. It’s a technique stolen from activist lefties, such as Saul Alinsky, whom Democrats widely admire.

In county after county in Idaho, the ugliness and disrespect of this approach can be seen at monthly county GOP meetings and in the ideological tangents they propose as legislation. Common-sense Republicans are ridiculed as not being pure enough, i.e. Republicans in name only, or RINOs.

Will any of this need to a better state, more jobs, safe and secure communities? Some even want to dismantle public schools. Here’s a question: how’s that for leadership for our next generation and beyond?

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at


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