Labrador angling for lucrative conservative lobbying job — so says new theory

Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador’s is “building a national brand” that could be “parlayed into a rewarding contract with a conservative lobby,” akin to former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who quit the Senate this year to become president of the Heritage Foundation.

That’s the thinking of Marty Trillhaase, the Lewiston Tribune’s editorial writer, whose column appears in Monday’s paper. Trillhaase, a former colleague of mine at the Statesman and a veteran of the Idaho Falls Post-Register, is a brilliant guy who knows the state as well as anyone. His column is available only to subscribers but I’ll summarize his thinking and add that I heard similar speculation last week from another close follower of Idaho politics.

Last week, I wrote a column arguing that Labrador’s latest campaign finance report suggests he’s running for re-election and will abandon his flirtation with a challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter. But Trillhaase makes a sophisticated case for Labrador leaving public office altogether. He cites these clues:

Labrador has twice voted to cut by half the national energy research budget, which would likely result in thousands of lost jobs at the Idaho National Lab near Idaho Falls. That, writes Trillhaase, suggests Labrador’s not considering a statewide race, whether for governor or lieutenant governor (another target of recent speculation).

Last year, Labrador voted against funding Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes, which would cost Idaho County alone $10 million. Argues Trillhaase: that’s not the vote of someone seeking re-election in the 1st Congressional District.

Labrador’s withholding his vote and participating in a failed and publicly exposed coup to oust House Speaker John Boehner was inconsistent with a man considering a career in the House.

After all the hoopla and promise of Labrador’s brokering a deal on immigration reform, he withdrew from the “Gang of Eight” in June, abandoning his “best opportunity for a political and legislative legacy,” writes Trillhaase. That is consistent, however, with “burnishing his credentials with conservative groups.”

Labrador has an excellent voting record in the eyes of conservative interest groups, including Club for Growth (98 percent), American Conservative Union (96 percent), the John Birch Society (89 percent), and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (100 percent).

“Throw in Labrador’s enthusiasm for national media attention — and its obvious affection for his ability to perform well on live television. Labrador has been on ‘Meet the Press’ so often it’s become routine. You’ll also find him on ‘This Week’ and MSNBC’s ‘WOW,’” writes Trillhaase.

“In the political trade, that’s known as building a national brand — which can be parlayed into a rewarding contract with a conservative lobby.

“Is that what Labrador is up to? If so, where do his Idaho constituents fit into the picture?” concludes Trillhaase.

I’ve asked Labrador for comment and will update this post when I hear back.

Also, I’ll disclose that last week I made a small wager that Rep. Labrador will run for re-election in 2014, and, should he win a third term, he will finish it. That’s not meant to dismiss the strength of Trillhaase’s case. I’m just a more conventional person and figure Labrador’s likely re-election to a good job with excellent benefits is a safer course from him and his family.









Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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