By STEVE CAMERON
COEUR d’ALENE — A standing-room-only crowd in the Lake City High auditorium Friday night learned two things above all else.
First, local Democrats and progressives have gotten wiser in less than a week.
Criticized heavily for hooting and hollering at a gathering hosted by local Republican office-holders Monday night, this time they handed out green and red cards (signifying “Moral” and “Immoral”) to anyone who wanted them.
So instead of a chorus of booing, the audience and speaker might suddenly be gazing into the sea of red when the discussion turned displeasing.
But the second lesson trumped the first (pun intended) …
You simply cannot trap a
politician with a “Gotcha!” question, as U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, proved again and again, dancing easily around anything that might have put him in a difficult position.
This was Labrador’s town hall forum, and without ever veering toward being impolite, he avoided or shot down any and all queries that were meant to put him on the defensive.
For instance, Mike May of Coeur d’Alene mentioned he had lived in Australia for a time, and noted President Trump recently told Malcolm Turnbull, that country’s prime minister, the Aussies’ universal health care system was better than our own.
“So why can’t we get past all this and have health care for everyone in this country?” May asked.
(Imagine a meadow of waving green cards …)
Labrador was unfazed, and replied: “I don’t see a lot of people moving to Australia to get their health care — or Canada, either.”
Moreoever, the congressman used May’s question and a couple of others to emphasize one of his key points.
“It doesn’t say anywhere in the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of Independence that health care is a right,” Labrador said. “Of course, we want to find a system that provides that care for as many Americans as possible at the lowest possible cost — and that’s what the bill we just passed will do.”
(Now imagine that meadow suddenly turning red …)
Several questioners, who received tickets at the front door and then were called by number in a form of lottery, returned to the House’s health care bill.
“How can you say you’re pro-life and then vote for a bill that will cost the lives of millions of Americans?” asked Roberta Prescott.
Labrador escaped that question with a soft-shoe worthy of an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars.”
He said: “We’ve tried to give access to more Americans than ever before. Under Obamacare, about 7 percent of people got better health care at the expense of the other 93 percent.
“We’ve created a process to reduce costs for all Americans, and protected people (with pre-existing conditions) with a high-risk pool supplied by the states.”
And so it went, over and over, with health care.
Barbara Schmich of Coeur d’Alene wanted to quiz Labrador on tax reform, and especially the fact that many large corporations pay no tax at all — or use offshore tax shelters to hide their money from the U.S. government.
Labrador agreed with her wholeheartedly, insisting he wanted to bring down corporate taxes to lure companies back home and “close the loopholes,” that allow big companies to dodge taxes.
“Big corporations are taking tax deductions that mom-and-pop companies back home really can’t,” he said, getting very little green or red response — perhaps because almost everyone in Washington has said something similar.
Labrador, though, did a great job of keeping the audience — and his opponents likely outnumbered his fans by just a bit — somewhat on his side with statements like this: “Whether you voted for me or not, whether you agree with me or not — and I’m sure many of you don’t — my office is still here to help all of you.”
The congressman even admitted almost total ignorance on one subject, when he was asked about subsidies for Amtrak.
“I’m not sure about that,” Labrador said. “We don’t have Amtrak in Idaho, anyway.”
Cue the red cards.
There is, in fact, Amtrak service coming through the state from Chicago en route to Seattle with a stop in Sandpoint.
“You know,” Labrador admitted with a laugh, “I’ve been so busy with the health care bill that I really haven’t been studying anything else.”
More red cards.
“But I really don’t think there will be any Amtrak cuts.”
Eventually, Susan Servia of Coeur d’Alene asked the question the audience was waiting to hear.
“Why can’t you get President Trump to produce his income tax returns?” she said, to raucous applause.
Labrador replied there’s nothing in the law requiring a president to divulge his tax returns, a dance step that drew out the red-card cynics.
Even Labrador’s critics, however, probably didn’t give him a failing grade for Friday night’s performance.
Don Rumpel, a businessman from Kellogg, perhaps summed it up.
“He seems like a pretty nice guy, whatever you think,” Rumpel said.
Green cards for that, surely.