If there were a television program titled “Worst Jobs in American Politics,” the chairmanship of Idaho’s Republican Party would be sure to make the list — if the series lasted long enough to get to that segment.
Here’s a quick job description for the chairmanship: “The job sucks,” says Congressman Russ Fulcher. “You spend your own gas money and burn up tires running all over the state to turn yourself into a punching bag.”
Ideology within Idaho’s Republican Party ranges from center-right to somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. The chairman’s primary responsibility is to make all factions happy, which is kind of like being a referee in a fraternity house food fight. Risk factors include high stress and broken marriages, to go along with little gratitude.
The kicker is that the chairmanship is not even a decent stepping-stone for an elective office. Steve Yates lost his bid last year to become lieutenant governor, four years after gluing back the pieces of a fractured party.
Thanks a lot, Idaho Republicans.
So, who could possibly want this “volunteer” gig from hell? Miraculously, at least two big-name politicos could be going for the position, which will be filled when the GOP central committee holds its summer meeting later this month. Former State Superintendent Tom Luna has expressed his interest, and there’s speculation that former Congressman Raul Labrador will enter the fray. His friends have been pushing him to run, but at this writing he has not notified the central committee of his intentions. Kootenai County’s Jennifer Locke has held the position since Jonathan Parker resigned in February.
If Labrador runs, then he and Luna should qualify for sainthood. Fulcher, for one, says Republicans should feel grateful that two seasoned political figures even are considering taking the job.
“Either one would be great,” Fulcher says. “They both know the drill. They’ve both been around the state and both have run for, or held, a statewide office. And they both know the cost of divisiveness. I give nothing but positive marks for either one.”
Luna, who was elected as superintendent in 2006 and served two terms, is saying the right things.
“No one has more experience fighting the left and their liberal agenda than me,” Luna said in an email to the central committee (reported by Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News). “For eight years I took on the strongest liberal special interest groups in the country. They fought me as we expanded school choice, removed their stronghold on the local school boards, implemented pay for performance for our teachers and followed fiscally conservative principles in spending your tax dollars.”
Luna pushed through a series of education reforms through the Legislature, only to be soundly rejected by Idaho voters. But there was no lack of salesmanship on Luna’s part.
If support for President Trump ends up being a determining factor with the central committee, then Labrador would be a solid pick. Labrador supported two other GOP candidates initially (Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz), but enthusiastically campaigned nationally for Trump once he became the nominee. With 2020 being a presidential-election year, continued support for the president would be high on Labrador’s agenda.
As for concerns about Labrador, he lost to Gov. Brad Little in a spirited campaign a year ago and has had disagreements with Congressman Mike Simpson. But as the GOP chairman, Labrador would take on a different role. Any Republican chairman in the country would relish having a popular governor and senior member of the House Appropriations Committee on the GOP ticket, and Labrador would not be an exception.
“Whether it’s Tom or Raul, they would put all that stuff in their rear-view mirror,” Fulcher says. “When there is a rift within the party, and Republicans are unable to keep it together, then everything shifts. That’s what has happened in some states and we can’t let that happen here.”
For practical purposes, there is not enough turmoil within the GOP that can turn Idaho into a Democratic state anytime soon. However, if unity is what central committee members want, then either Luna or Labrador would provide that much.
The chairmanship still is a lousy job, but it could be better if the central committee offered reimbursement for gas and things like replacing worn tires. That would make life as a human punching bag more tolerable.
Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.