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Idaho Debates: Labrador, Arkoosh trade jabs over qualifications for AG’s office

Tom Arkoosh and Raul Labrador seen looking at each other from behind podiums during a debate in the race for the Attorney General's office. A blue background with white stars stand behind them.
Aaron Kunz
/
Idaho Public Television
Democratic nominee Tom Arkoosh and Republican Raul Labrador debate in the race to become Idaho's next Attorney General

Democrat Tom Arkoosh and Republican Raul Labrador traded barbs on qualifications throughout a 60-minute debate Monday, starting right from the opening statements.

“I want to run a law office, ” Arkoosh said, “I think my opponent wants to run a cultural war room.”

“You can't just get on-the-job training and decide that because you have been a lawyer for a long time and you've never really worked with these agencies in the way that you need to do that, you're now going to be able to work with them in a way that you can provide good legal advice,” Labrador said during his opening remarks, calling back to Arkoosh saying he didn’t need, ‘on-the-job training.’

Labrador, a former congressman and state lawmaker who currently sits on the Central District Board of Health unseated Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the May primary.

Both candidates are lawyers in private practice; Arkoosh registered as a Republican ahead of the party’s closed primary but was nominated by Democrats after primary winner Steve Scanlin pulled out of the race earlier this summer.

They each painted differing pictures of how they’d do their job. Labrador explained the role as an unflinching supporter of lawmakers.

“I will aggressively defend whatever the legislature does,” Labrador said. “But what I hope to do is to guide them in drafting the legislation so we don't lose as often as we have been losing in the past.”

That's a reference to the state’s largely unsuccessful record in court defending legal challenges to Idaho’s laws. Arkoosh referenced the state track record, too.

“How's that worked out so far? When the legislature decides to pass a blatantly unconstitutional amendment and then spend the Constitutional Defense Fund to defend it,” he said, “It just costs us money.”

Arkoosh says he favors conversation instead of litigation, saying his 44-year legal career has shaped his desire to get opposing parties to the table to talk instead of jumping right to the courtroom.

The state is currently defending its new laws banning abortion in the Idaho Supreme Court, and against a federal lawsuit claiming the law is too vague around what constitutes an exception allowing abortions when the life of the mother is at risk.

Labrador said he expects to win that case, and would take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, a step Arkoosh wouldn’t take as attorney general.

“He needs to understand that we need to defend the law of Idaho instead of saying that we're going to cave to the federal government,” Labrador said.

Arkoosh argued the vagaries in Idaho’s law could leave doctors and women in a legal no man’s land, “It's common decency not to leave these people in trouble,” he said.

Both candidates said they accepted the outcome of the 2020 election, but Labrador doubled down on supposed issues with the election process - despite no evidence of meaningful voter fraud in hundreds of audits by election officials nationwide.

“What I say is that the election was stolen, but it was stolen in plain sight,” Labrador said. “I don't think some of the wilder claims that have been made about the election process, that they have been borne out to be true. But there's no question that there were problems in the election process.”

Labrador confirmed that he told then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in a text message at 3:57 p.m. January 6, 2021 (reported by CNN) that he probably would not have certified the election results.

He also played down the potential of the issue of same-sex marriage being returned to state control, saying it was an issue being pushed by the media, and that it was not ‘top-of-mind’ for anyone in the state legislature. Arkoosh demurred on the question of same-sex marriage rights saying only he would enforce any orders from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The pair sparred over school vouchers, the definition of the word “political” and water rights. The entire debate, moderated by Idaho Reports host Melissa Davlin with panelists Kelcie Moseley-Morris of the Idaho Capital Sun and Jake Garcia of Idaho News 6, can be streamed at idahoptv.org.

Later this month, candidates in races for Lt. Governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction will face off in debates aired on Idaho Public Television. Several candidates, including Republican Governor Brad Little and Republican Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson, declined to participate in this fall's debates.

The upcoming general election is November 8.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News. He's also heard Saturday nights on Boise State Public Radio Music's Jazz Conversations.