By just two votes, former Congressman Raul Labrador will serve as the next chairman of the Idaho Republican Party.
At the Idaho GOP summer meeting in Boise Saturday, the former four-term Congressman won the leadership role in a nail biter with 111 votes. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna earned 109 votes.
The two men hugged before Labrador gave his acceptance speech. In it, he called for Republicans to be prepared to fight internally or in primaries.
“But when the decision is made, let’s stand together as a party, let’s stand united and do the things that are necessary for us to defeat the real enemy, which is the bad ideas of the other side,” he said.
Mary Strow, a communications consultant and former Idaho GOP spokesperson, says she doesn’t think division within the party is an inherently bad thing.
“Obviously, you don’t want people at each other’s throats, but that’s not what we have,” said Strow. “You want different ideas and people having debates because that’s what keeps the party fresh and engaged.”
Labrador succeeds the chairmanship left by Jonathan Parker, who is now facing a felony stalking charge related to his estranged wife.
“I wouldn’t mention this generally, but … I’m doing this because I have my wife’s support,” he said, noting he recently celebrated his 28th wedding anniversary.
“This job has destroyed families.”
Labrador declined an interview with Boise State Public Radio.
Last year, he lost the Republican Party primary race for governor to Brad Little. Labrador was one of the most outspoken members of the House Freedom Caucus, which he helped establish during his congressional career.
He famously told the audience at a town hall meeting in Lewiston in 2017 that "Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care," when asked about his vote to roll back the Affordable Care Act. Labrador later said his answer "wasn't very elegant" but that he was trying to make the point that hospitals are required by law to treat all patients, even if they can't pay.
Just before his victory was announced, party members rejected a proposed rule that would’ve let state Republican officials rescind endorsements to candidates – if they were disloyal to the party platform.
That could’ve led to funding drying up from the state party as well.
Marilyn Giddings, mother to state Rep. Priscilla Giddings (R-White Bird) and wife to Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings, proposed the rule change.
She said it’s not about forcing lawmakers to vote straight down the party line. “But if you choose to vote against the core beliefs of platform, be prepared to explain your vote,” Giddings said.
Charles Horikami, a legislative district chairman from Bear Lake County, decried the move as a top down approach that consolidates power outside of local districts.
“That is not Republican. That is destroying our party,” Horikami said.
The GOP is also urging state lawmakers to alter the redistricting process.
This new constitutional amendment would require a minimum of 35 legislative districts. The Idaho Constitution currently caps that number at 35, meaning any change could potentially add more districts.
Earlier this year, Republicans pulled back a constitutional amendment that would’ve added a seventh member to Idaho’s redistricting commission after significant public outcry.
That member would’ve been appointed by a group of elected statewide officials – all of whom are currently Republicans – and lower the vote threshold needed to adopt any new maps.
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