As October surprises go, this one was a doozy. Nearly 50 Republicans have lined up to support Democrat Tom Arkoosh over former Congressman Raul Labrador in a wild and crazy race for attorney general.
There are a lot of big names on the list – including former Gov. Phil Batt, former Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones, former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and former First Lady Lori Otter. Labrador has never a favorite of the GOP establishment, but this has turned into an all-out war.
One prominent Republican who is backing Labrador is David Leroy – a former attorney general and lieutenant governor. He’s not judging those friends and former colleagues who are siding with Arkoosh, but disagrees with their reasons for crossing party lines.
“It’s based on presumed weaknesses that Raul either doesn’t have, or will not exhibit once he’s elected,” Leroy said. “Raul would do a superb job. An attorney general needs to be part of the majority culture within the walls of the Statehouse. Tom Arkoosh is a friend of mine and a fine fellow, but a Democrat will not be a quarter as effective – even with the same skills or talents – as a Republican will be.”
Leroy sees Labrador’s experience as a four-term congressman, and providing constituent service, as a plus for an attorney general.
“So many of our issues have a federal entanglement,” Leroy says. “Raul is the best prepared candidate for attorney general than we’ve seen in this century, and probably the last century.”
One underlying objection to Labrador is that he’ll run for governor in four years, and that scares the daylights out of some folks. Labrador ran for governor four years ago, promising to “drain the swamp” and shake up state government – rhetoric that establishment types don’t want to hear. Detractors see Labrador spending the next four years campaigning for the state’s top job. Losing this race likely would end Labrador’s political career.
Leroy, who had plenty of political ambitions of his own when he was attorney general, is not worried about what Labrador “might” do with his political future. Leroy served one term as attorney general, then ran for lieutenant governor and governor – losing by a narrow margin to Democrat Cecil Andrus in 1986.
“I had political ambitions, yet I still get accolades for my service as attorney general. That’s because I lived and believed that attorney general was a fabulous job to show one’s legal skills in a political arena. If you are a good enough lawyer, you might get hired to be lieutenant governor – or governor,” Leroy said.
“I have absolutely no fear that Raul Labrador will take his eye off the ball as attorney general,” Leroy said. “It’s not a campaign office. It is a job where sophisticated high-level legal issues come at you daily. There’s plenty to do without striking a pose for a campaign poster.”
Arkoosh and others have criticized Labrador for lacking knowledge on water issues. And Labrador has acknowledged that he is not an expert in that area.
“You know what? I’m not a water expert either,” Leroy said. But he added that he hired attorneys with expertise on water issues and successfully argued those issues to the Supreme Court.
It’s not unusual for a few Republicans occasionally backing a Democrat in a political campaign. But not to this magnitude. Endorsements from big-name Republicans certainly have given a moral boost Arkoosh; the question is whether the endorsements will make a significant difference in the outcome.
Dorothy Moon, who chairs the state Republican Party, makes a valid point. It’s a safe bet that many of the hundreds of thousands of people who have moved to Idaho in recent years have never heard of the list of Republicans favoring Arkoosh. And to a good number of those newcomers, the more conservative a candidate is, the better.
GOP endorsements might help Arkoosh in Ada County, but that won’t necessarily be the case in North Idaho, or in rural communities where folks automatically vote for Republicans no matter what. Newspaper headlines are not nearly as effective as a wave of television advertising. Arkoosh still is largely unknown outside of the Treasure Valley.
But there’s no question that the Republican defections in this race have added some luster to an otherwise dull campaign season. I’ve been following Idaho politics for a long time, and this is the darndest thing I’ve seen.
ctmalloy@outlook. Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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