Shoshone County Republicans gathered on March 3 at their annual Lincoln Day dinner, which took place at the Wallace Inn. Those that attended might have been surprised at the number of major political candidates there eager to meet, greet and solicit support.
Start with the featured speaker, former attorney general and lieutenant governor David Leroy who has been a natural choice to speak at almost all Lincoln Day dinners because he has become a true expert and scholar on the impact President Lincoln had on Idaho. The date itself was propitious because March 4 was the anniversary of the day President Lincoln signed the bill in 1863 creating the Idaho Territory.
Leroy’s remarks were tailored to contemporary times and his speech was an interesting contrast of similarities faced by both presidents (Trump and Lincoln) when they took office.
Once a rising star in Idaho politics, Leroy “retired” from the political scene following his narrow 1986 defeat at the hands of Cecil Andrus when Andrus decided to reclaim the governorship. Since then his legal practice has prospered and he clearly has prepared another run for public office. He is “tan, rested, and ready,” as the expression goes.
Whether he runs is dependent upon the decision of the presence that was not present, but was in almost all conversations at the dinner - First District Congressman Raul Labrador. Is he, as rumored frequently, going to come home and run for governor in 2018?
If so, will he resign his seat to campaign full-time? Or is he going to resign and accept some position in the Trump Administration that deals with the immigration issue, which he has considerable expertise on based on his legal practice.
If he resigns before November of 2018, Idaho law specifies a special election in a winner-take-all ballot. Idaho is the one state in the union that has never had a special election for the House though in the early 30s the second congressional district seat was vacated on June 8th, 1934 when Democratic Congressman Thomas Coffin was hit and killed by a car on a street in Washington, D.C. Because Congress had already adjourned for the year the seat remained vacant until November when D. Worth Clark won the general election.
Declared gubernatorial aspirant Lt. Gov. Brad Little was present as was Boise developer and businessman, Dr. Tommy Ahlquist. Both chose to work the crowd one-on-one rather than address the entire gathering. Former State Senator Russ Fulcher was represented by some family members and Attorney General Laurence Wasden had no one representing his as yet undeclared interest.
If one supports Lt. Governor Little, you want four or five candidates in the race, the thought being your base will hold while the Tea Party vote would split between Labrador and Fulcher. Ahlquist is LDS and he has to be courting Melaleuca founder and billionaire Frank VanderSloot, hoping that his support will consolidate the state’s LDS vote (assumes of course that it is monolithic, which it is not) behind his candidacy.
While some pundits believe Little has to be the favorite others feel he will be handicapped by his close identification with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter who has disappointed many Republicans because he is perceived to have been coasting these last few years. Critics will charge that a vote for Little is a vote for a fourth Otter term. Brad has to figure out how to distance himself from Otter while not appearing to be disloyal.
Labrador and his supporters are still citing a poll, now six months old, that shows their horse with 48% of a Republican gubernatorial primary vote and all the other wanna-be’s in single digits.
Leroy is the one person positioned to be up and running almost instantly should Labrador resign. Name identification alone should make him the initial favorite. Reports around the district indicate there would be several other contenders including State Rep. Luke Malek from Coeur d’Alene and State Rep. Brent Crane from Nampa.
Such gatherings always serve as breeding grounds for political rumor milling. Two of the best were that GOP legislative leadership is quietly preparing a couple of measures to spring on the last day for sine die when they’ll suspend the calendar and ram a bill through that will create a primary requirement even for a special election. Another effort would be a legal mandate that will supersede the Batt nuclear waste agreement and permit the importation of the spent fuel rods Governor Batt and Governor Andrus have thus far been able to thwart
The other fun rumor is that House Speaker Scott Bedke has been approached by Interior Secretary Zinke about being nominated for one of the assistant secretaryships at Interior. A call to the Speaker’s office asking for a comment was not returned.
Still, when all was said and done it is clear that Raul Labrador is holding the key to most interesting political machinations over the next two years.