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Running against Elvis

malloy CHUCK

In Idaho

People in Meridian don’t attend city council meetings and only 10 percent of school district voters bothered to cast ballots in the last bond election. But when Congressman Raul Labrador comes in for a town hall meeting, a standing-room-only crowd waits for him at city hall – which poses a big problem for State Rep. Shirley Ringo of Moscow, Labrador’s Democratic opponent for the 1st District congressional seat.

She is running against a political rock star.
He’s a Puerto Rican version of John F. Kennedy. He has a quick wit and his humor often is self-depreciating, which is a big hit with the audience. He asks the crowd not to boo questions they might not like, “but if you don’t like my answer, then you can boo me – as long as it’s with love and kindness.”

He talks about President Obama being an ideologue and gives praise to former President Clinton for being a “pragmatic politician” who was smart enough to take credit for Republican accomplishments – such as creating a government surplus. He has charts illustrating how the nation is heading down the tubes if it doesn’t get spending under control and warns that Social Security for him (at 46) and people younger will not look the same as it does today. Changes need to be made.

Not all his criticism is directed at Obama and liberal Democrats. Republicans, he says, will go nowhere unless they do a better job identifying what they are for – rather than what they are against.

Labrador doesn’t always let facts get in the way of good political rhetoric. One questioner asked why he has not cosponsored legislation that would help revive the U.S. Postal Service. He said the postal employees helped create the mess by signing off on a retirement plan that would help employees not even born yet. Actually, it was Congress that created the plan in 2006, bringing the Postal Service to the brink of bankruptcy.

But his explanation sounded good and his analysis of the federal deficit, and other issues, made sense. He promises to continue to “fight for less government, less spending, more accountability and … to fight for the people of Idaho.”

In Labrador’s world – and I got a first-hand look a couple of weeks ago — fighting for Idahoans means casting a lot of “no” votes, even for governmental entities working to save lives. In March, I was in Washington, D.C., as part of a “lobbying day” sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. The ADA was asking for about $2 billion for continued research to find a cure for diabetes and programs to promote prevention. Sen. Jim Risch, who is at least as conservative as Labrador, embraces the cause, but it’s not on Labrador’s radar.

Five months after my visit to Washington, Labrador sent me a letter by email saying, “There needs to be a balance between the needs of our people and the nation’s economic responsibilities. During hard economic times like these, sacrifices must be taken on the part of all to ensure that the United States is, and will continue to be, in a position of economic prosperity. Measures need to be taken on the part of the individual, and personal responsibility must be exercised to improve the economic and physical health of our nation.”

Of course, not all diabetes is self-imposed. And the ultimate “sacrifices” include blindness, amputations, kidney failure and death. By 2050, it is projected that one-third of the American population will have diabetes – which is anything but a path to economic prosperity. But Labrador is consistent with his views on federal spending. The answer is “no” for diabetes research, or almost any other form of discretionary federal spending.

“That’s a shortsighted view and not what you’d expect from your congressional representative,” Ringo told me later. “The cost of not dealing with this in a proactive way will be extremely high. This is systematic of the one-dimensional approach he’s taking, without considering the long-term effects.

She has a tough way to go, given the conservative nature of the 1st District. She has a lot of thoughts about how she would represent the district differently from Labrador. All she has to do is figure out how to pack ’em in like Elvis.

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