By John Celock
The GOP race for Idaho governor got more crowded as one of the state’s two members of Congress entered the race.
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador announced Tuesday that he had filed the paperwork to become the third Republican to enter the race to succeed retiring three-term Gov. Butch Otter (R). The move kicks off one of the most contested gubernatorial primaries Idaho has seen in decades.
“Idaho needs a proven conservative leader who will stand against the special interests and politicians that have picked the winners and losers in our state Capitol for too long,” Labrador said in a statement. “Idaho needs a strong leader who will make government fair for everyone. Idaho needs a governor who will provide a new vision, a new approach and new leadership.”
The move comes days after Labrador, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said that “no one dies because they don’t have access to health care,” as part of the congressional debate over the American Health Care Act. The statement has drawn Labrador criticism from moderates and progressives nationwide.
Labrador has represented Idaho in Congress since 2011, following four years in the state House of Representatives. He indicated that he would continue to serve in Congress until the end of his present term in 2019.
Labrador enters a Republican gubernatorial field that already contains Lt. Gov. Brad Little, businessman Tommy Ahlquist and former state Sen. Russ Fulcher. Idaho First Lady Lori Otter announced last year that she had no intention to attempt to succeed her husband as governor.
The Republican nomination has been tantamount to election in Idaho gubernatorial elections in recent years. The last Democrat to hold the office was Cecil Andrus, who left office in 1995.
Idaho Republicans have not seen a competitive primary for governor since 1994 when former Gov. Phil Batt defeated then Attorney General Larry Echohawk. Batt went on to win his solitary term as governor that year. In 1998, then U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne was unopposed in the GOP primary to succeed Batt in the governor’s mansion and easily defeated his Democratic opponent.
In 2006, Otter, then a three term congressman and former four term lieutenant governor, won 70 percent of the GOP primary vote against three minor opponents. Otter was spared a major challenge when then Gov. Jim Risch (R) decided to run for a second term as lieutenant governor rather than oppose Otter for the governorship. Risch, now a U.S. senator, had succeeded Kempthorne in May 2006 when Kempthorne stepped down to become U.S. interior secretary. Risch had also declined to challenge Otter before succeeding to the governorship.
On the Democratic side, no candidates have emerged for the governorship with 2014 Democratic nominee A.J. Balukoff, a member of the Boise School Board, mentioned as a potential candidate.