(Note: Congressman Raúl Labrador announced on May 9 that he would not be seeking re-election to the US House and instead would be running for Governor of Idaho.)
— Montel Williams (@Montel_Williams) May 7, 2017
Idaho’s first district stretches 479 miles, from Canada to Nevada. It includes all of Northern Idaho, most of Central Idaho, and about half of Southwestern Idaho. In 2012, the border shifted slightly westward, leaving most of the Boise part of the traditional “Boise” district tied with ultra-conservative and high turnout Eastern Idaho.
The state itself is huge and geographically diverse, from mountain timber and grain fields in the north to volcanic desert and river plains in the south. There are urban areas that are well off financially, and other areas (okay most of the areas) have shifted from mostly a hardscrabble existence, wrested from the land in some way, to more of a mix between rural economy and service economy. The population is aging rapidly, and the influx of older adults from more expensive and liberal states in to small communities to “get away from it all” has fundamentally changed politics towards the conservative in the state that was once known for progressive political giants like Frank Church and William Borah.
There were many things happening politically and socially in the 1960’s through the 1980’s that subtly led to the era of Labrador, but the one that seemed to solidify that idea among a core group of Idahoans that facts aren’t real, morality can be legislated under the guise of religious freedom, and the federal government needed to butt out was the standoff at Ruby Ridge. For more about Ruby Ridge, check out this excellent piece by PBS.
Randy Weaver, a [suspected] white separatist, had been targeted by the federal government after failing to appear in court to face charges related to his selling of two illegal sawed-off shotguns to an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) informant. On August 21, 1992, after a period of surveillance, U.S. marshals came upon Harrison; Weaver; Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Sammy; and the family dog, Striker, on a road near the Weaver property. A marshal shot and killed the dog, prompting Sammy to fire at the marshal. In the ensuing gun battle, Sammy and U.S. Marshal Michael Degan were shot and killed. A tense standoff ensued, and on August 22 the FBI joined the marshals besieging Ruby Ridge.
Later that day, Harris, Weaver, and his daughter, Sarah, left the cabin, allegedly for the purpose of preparing Sammy’s body for burial. FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi, waiting 200 yards away, opened fire, allegedly because he thought Harrison was armed and intending to fire on a helicopter in the vicinity. Horiuchi wounded Weaver, and the group ran to the shed where Sammy’s body was lying. When they attempted to escape back into the cabin, Horiuchi fired again, wounding Harrison as he dove through the door and killing Vicki Weaver, who was holding the door open with one hand and cradling her infant daughter with the other. Horiuchi claimed he didn’t know that Vicki Weaver was standing behind the door. Harris, Weaver, and Weaver’s three daughters surrendered nine days later.
In Idaho, we watched in horror. There is still contention among locals, especially in North Idaho, over whether Randy was really a Nazi, or if Lon knew that Vicki had the baby behind the door and not her rifle. Were the Weavers religious extremists? Yup. However, the relationship that brought the weapons charge on was tenuous at best and it was just as likely that it was a case of law enforcement overreach that caused the warrants to be issued in the first place. Lon shot a kid, and then an unarmed woman, and the FBI attempted to cover it up.
It’s little wonder then, that the government is treated with suspicion in a place where it can seem like help isn’t coming. Jaded personalities who point at examples of government failure as a reason to demolish it believe that fail points like Ruby Ridge and the many other examples of legislative, judicial, and policy failure out there are the justification why. The top two AM radio stations (AM works better in the mountains, my dear) have intensely one sided lineups, and its not to the left. Fox News is on almost every TV in every public waiting area in the state, plus thousands upon thousands more homes. Trump won Idaho with 409,000 votes in a state of 1.6m. Hillary came in short of 200,000. Voter apathy is high among the young and those who don’t identify with the Republicans, because, why bother? Democrats lose, politicians lie, and nothing improves. The government takes and takes and doesn’t do a damn thing for the little guy. Out of kids who are born here (who are lucky enough to survive,) a large percentage of those who manage to get themselves educated leave and rarely come back, even to visit.
Politically, Idaho masquerades as Hell’s echo chamber. The ecosystem is full of conspiracy theories, idealogical purity tests, accepting corporate and religious influences, raking in money personally from wherever elected officials can find it, and petty bullshit that takes over our legislative sessions for days instead of, yanno, their elected jobs. Legislators and leadership cut taxes over and over, and refuse to spend surpluses. They pass laws to limit education (not just spending, but like, concepts) and refuse to address humans rights issues that have been brought up in every session, even if they have to dodge protestors every day to do so. The State of Idaho gets smacked down by higher courts for acting unconstitutionally on social issues more than it can really afford. Claiming to not be able to fund things like teachers salaries and health care assistance but then blowing millions in legal defense is hard to justify, but the Idaho GOP manages to pull it off!
Raúl has good timing. He defeated Blue Dog, and only known Tea Party Democrat, Walt Minnick in 2010. Labrador had some help in that first primary from Idaho’s favorite disowned native daughter, Sarah Palin, who endorsed and campaigned for an opponent who plagiarized an Obama speech. (In ruby red Idaho, that dumbass. Of course, nowadays, that’s Presidential behavior. Too bad, Vaughn!) Raúl was also a darling of the Tea Party movement and remains key, but has moved further to the extreme conservative the longer he has been in office, and recently has tried to distance himself from the group altogether. His personal story is almost interesting until you’re in his presence for more than 10 minutes and realize that he is a master of twisting reality and comes across as disingenuous most of the time.
Labrador spouts the correct keywords to induce right wing nut jobs and ruthless corporate shills alike to feel warm fuzzies, looks decent in a suit, has an addiction to delivering fire takes in front of microphones, and maintains a good standing in the LDS church (which happens to delight in showing off their successful people of color like props to cover its racist history, and are over-represented among elected officials.) In Idaho, that is literally enough to get elected. His supporting constituents believe that the only good government is one that doesn’t take their money for any reason, and if it must exist, guys like Mr. Labrador, who claims to be looking out for bank balances and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms alike, need to run it.
He misses 3.8% of his votes, which is much higher than the average of 2.2%. He votes no on nearly everything, except bills of no consequence, really, or the things his twisted priorities end up supporting. Bill to help veterans? Nah. Bill to fund the government? Nope. Bill to rename a courthouse? Aye, bitches. A bill that changes the US Patent system from first to invent to first to file the paperwork? Showed up and voted yes for that. He gets in Twitter fights with Donald Trump, sounds as soulless as he looks around a microphone, but does have one redeeming quality. The congresscritter shows up for town halls and takes his beatings for his performance (which is more than can be said for the rest of the Idaho delegation.) Willingness to stand up for his opinions is really the only connection between the great Idaho politicians of old and this sad imitation.
Recently, Congressman Labrador has been insinuating he might run for Governor of Idaho in 2018 instead of seeking re-election in the House. Who knows, maybe the stress of Washington is getting to him and he wants to gut the state of Idaho for the benefit of he and his donors, as is apparently tradition.
Why Raúl, multiple times? Because he shows up, and speaks in words that really makes sense to folks who cannot imagine anyone else being right about anything, especially those damn liberals. Through the actions of those same people, anyone who is not willing to stick around to be ignored or worse for their skin color, disability status, sexuality, religion, origin country, or other outward difference, and aren’t willing to be vastly underpaid or to take L after L in election after election are eventually driven out. This means there aren’t enough voters or political pull left to defeat the opportunistic blowhards of the world. Living in Idaho is like living inside a GOP fever dream.
The population of Idaho’s 1st District has a lot of apathy toward the political system. Mix that with pockets of (frequently violent and racist) extremism, constant talk (and sometimes proof) of conspiracy, low rates of education, stagnant wages, quickly increasing cost of living, collective social memory of brutal history, as well as the local and national political landscape, and maybe its easier to understand how someone like Raúl Labrador ended up in congress.