Former Congressman Raul Labrador and former state schools Superintendent Tom Luna reportedly want to become the next chairman of the Idaho Republican Party.
And, of course, you must be asking yourself:
l Why would the GOP want either one of these failed politicians?
l Why would Labrador or Luna want to leap into this political snakepit?
The vacancy opened on Feb. 18 when GOP Chairman Jonathan Parker resigned, citing family concerns. Last week, Parker was arrested and charged with felony stalking his estranged wife.
The GOP Central Committee meets June 28-29 to name a successor. For a time, it looked as though it would be Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls, who currently serves as the GOP’s second vice chairman. You may remember Smith as the Club for Growth-backed insurgent who challenged Congressman Mike Simpson in the 2014 GOP primary, only to carry 38 percent.
But things turned sour for Smith when Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot exposed his business model — collecting payment from people behind on their medical bills and sticking them with huge legal fees.
Last week, Smith told the Idaho Falls Post Register’s Nathan Brown he’s not running for the job.
At about the same time, Labrador’s name surfaced in an Idaho Reports blog. He’s not said yes. He’s not said no. In fact, he’s not responded to requests for comments.
No doubt, a former four-term congressman would lend gravitas to the party’s chairmanship.
But talk about baggage.
He lost the GOP gubernatorial primary by about 9,000 votes to the current occupant of that office, Brad Little.
No governor has been able to impose his chairman on the state GOP since the party rebelled against Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s choice, Kirk Sullivan, in 2008.
Tolerating a philosophical adversary at the helm of the governor’s party is one thing. When that party appoints the governor’s past — and possible future — primary rival as its leader, it’s quite another.
Little has enough trouble working around Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who doesn’t mind holding him up to ridicule before an Idaho Falls GOP crowd. Why would he want this?
Labrador’s penchant for divisiveness extends to his former seatmate in Congress.
Not only did Labrador call Simpson out as a smoker, drinker and liar on a live radio program, but he was sympathetic toward Smith in that 2014 primary campaign.
Perhaps Little and Simpson have short memories. What about the GOP rank and file? Will they forget the last time Labrador held the gavel at a GOP state convention? Five years ago in Moscow, the atmosphere turned so acrimonious that delegates returned home without adopting a new platform or selecting new party leadership?
Maybe they’ll turn to Luna.
“No one has more experience fighting the left and their liberal agenda than me,” he wrote to Republican faithful last week. “For eight years, I took on the strongest liberal special interest groups in the country.”
What he didn’t say was he took on the “liberal special interest groups” and lost.
By the time Luna opted not to seek a third term, he had become so politically toxic it wasn’t clear who welcomed his departure more — Republicans, who feared he might lose to a Democrat, or teachers, who bristled at being derided by him as union goons.
In between, Luna sponsored a series of anti-teacher “reforms” so unpopular that the voters repealed them by margins of 57 percent to 66.7 percent.
The repudiation of the “Luna laws” and their architect led to a course correction. Idaho liquidated its education wars by empaneling broad-based task forces and pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into better teacher pay.
So how is making Luna the personification of the GOP going to help a Republican governor and Legislature that are committed to building on education progress achieved during the five years since he became a private citizen?
Even if the party is willing to ignore recent history, why would Labrador or Luna?
Who told them this is a stepping stone to a political comeback?
Not former Chairman Steve Yates. Last year , he lost the lieutenant governor’s race to McGeachin in part because some of his antagonists within the party combed through the late Sheila Olsen’s private emails to procure evidence that his business was in distress. They mailed it to 45,000 households.
And not from the GOP purists who want to repeal the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, restore the gold standard and wage war against any of their own candidates who refuse to sign a loyalty oath.
Presiding over this dysfunctional group is a straight ticket to political oblivion.
Is this somebody’s idea of a punchline? — M.T.