BOISE — By two votes, Raul Labrador has been elected chairman of the Idaho Republican Party.
The former congressman edged out former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna on a 111-109 vote of the state central committee Saturday morning at its summer meeting at the Boise Centre East. Labrador’s term will last until the state party convention next year.
Labrador replaces Jennifer Locke, who has been the party’s acting chairman since former Chairman Jonathan Parker stepped down in February. Locke said she wasn’t seeking a term as chairman so she could focus on her family and on her work — she is Kootenai County’s chief deputy clerk, and has been filling in as acting clerk since the county clerk is ill.
Labrador was elected to Congress in 2010 and became one of the most high-profile members of the House Freedom Caucus, and he is popular among the Idaho Republican Party’s further-right wing. He didn’t seek another term in 2018, instead running for governor and losing the GOP primary to now-Gov. Brad Little.
Labrador said in his speech after the results were announced that, while there are disagreements in the party and there will be primary fights, they need to stand united in general elections to oppose “the bad ideas of the other side.”
“It’s amazing how close it was, and it tells us how our party is divided and united,” he said.
Bonneville County GOP Chairman Mark Fuller, who nominated Labrador, praised his work in Congress, saying he didn’t let Washington D.C. change him. He also praised Labrador’s support for President Trump.
Idaho lawmakers U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo withdrew their support of Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tapes, in which Trump bragged about groping women, came out during the 2016 campaign; Labrador put out a statement saying he would still vote for Trump and campaigned for him at several out-of-state stops.
“Raul unapologetically supported President Trump while others were waffling or outright hiding,” Fuller said.
A common theme among the speakers at the meeting was the need to push back against what they characterized as an extreme Democratic Party. U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, who succeeded Labrador in Congress, characterized the Democratic Party’s agenda as “open borders,” letting felons and undocumented immigrants vote, public funding for congressional elections and allowing abortion even after birth.
“This is not the Democratic Party of your parents and grandparents,” he said.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who spoke along with several other state elected officials, briefly alluded in his speech to presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who Wasden knew when she was California attorney general. Harris was hailed by many as the winner of Thursday’s Democratic debate, with her exchange with former Vice President Joe Biden over the issue of desegregation busing in the 1970s receiving particular attention.
“The one thing that Kamala Harris cares about is Kamala Harris,” Wasden said. “It’s not you.”
Labrador said in his speech that, as more people move to Idaho, they would bring different views to the state, and Republicans would need to make sure they make their case to the people to keep the state red.
“You see what’s happening on that national stage, and that stage is moving to the state of Idaho,” he said.
Luna’s supporters said he was the man for the job, pointing to aspects of his record such as winning election for superintendent of public instruction in 2006, an office which was occupied by a Democrat before him.
“Tom is a man of faith, integrity, and he has the courage to take on tough races,” said national committeewoman Cindy Siddoway.
Former chairman Parker was arrested a month ago, accused of stalking his estranged wife. In his speech before the vote, Labrador said the chairman job has “destroyed families” in the past, and noted he was running with his wife’s support.
The central committee also voted 86-120 to reject a proposed rule change that would have set up a process to remove the party’s endorsement from a sitting lawmaker for “intentionally and consistently” opposing multiple aspects of the state party platform.
“It’s simple, if a Republican legislator does not support the platform, generally speaking the party should not support them,” said Marilyn Giddings of Idaho County.
Charles Horikami of Bear Lake County, who opposed the proposal, said it would give power to people in other counties to withdraw the endorsement of a district’s lawmaker.
“That is a top-down project,” he said. “That is not Republican. That is destroying our party.”