The two-edged sword

By Chris Carlson

First District Congressman Raul Labrador is a smart, charming, articulate, up-by-the boot-strap, 45-year-old attorney known for his fearlessness in taking on the establishment within his Republican Party in Idaho as well as Washington, D.C.

A darling of the Tea Party types (those to the right of Attila the Hun) and the Club for Growth as well as the Grover Norquist never-support-a-tax-increase of any kind for any reason crowd, he is being urged to come home to seek the governorship.

Odds are, he will, for a variety of reasons not the least of which is a sincere desire to spend more time with his wife and the four of their five children still living at home in Meridian. Labrador and his wife are both devout members of the LDS Church, and family togetherness is a cherished value and tenet of their faith.

When a practicing attorney he specialized in immigration law and has parlayed that expertise skillfully while in Congress. He is viewed by leadership as a credible Hispanic face who will lead the Republicans to the promised land of a larger slice of the future Hispanic vote as he works with Florida Senator Marco Rubio to fashion a fair and more reasonable Republican position on immigration reform.

What many pundits are overlooking is that for Labrador immigration reform is a double-edged sword for him and in a different sense for his party.

For Labrador it is a classic case that any final reform no matter how it is phrased will ease the path to citizenship for the millions of illegal largely Hispanic immigrants within our borders. To critics of reform, especially the many in Labrador’s Tea Party base, anything that rewards the illegal immigrant for their scoff-law attitude is unfair to the many million others who played by the rules.

Sandy Patano, former Senator Larry Craig’s state chief of staff, once told me that no issue generated more mail including hate mail aimed at the Senator than immigration reform. In all her years working with the Senator she had never seen such outrage, down-right hate, and such raw emotion regarding any issue they had ever faced.

Labrador recognizes the volatility of the issue and that he is riding the proverbial tiger. What makes sense is what he is doing—getting the debate started, helping to frame the issues, but then getting out of town and back home to run for governor. He can capitalize on his notoriety but can also provide himself the ability the side-step the final product.

The reform issue is a two-edged sword for the Republican Party nationallyas well. The reason is simple and was verified by recent research from the renowned Pew Research Lab. Their analysis shows that out of the pool of several million illegal immigrants expected to benefit from reforms as many as six or seven out of every ten that becomes a citizen will become also a Democratic voter.

Thus, in the global sense, the Republicans expect some modest gains in Hispanic ranks for votes for them because they finally got it and adopted progressive reform policies. The raw national political sense the reforms will create is several million more votes for the Democrats.

All this adds up to powerful incentives for Labrador to return home.

Nor will Labrador be afraid of taking on a sitting governor if Governor Otter decides to seek a third term. He has challenged Butch before, both over his transportation reform proposal during Otter’s first term and his support for a gas tax increase. He beat him both times. Doubtless he is not afraid of a third round with the governor.

Here is the clincher: it is even money bet that the funds to finance Labrador’s gubernatorial bid will be supplied by a fellow Mormon, Frank Vandersloot, the multi-millionaire owner of Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca Corporation. Don’t be surprised either if the campaign manager turns out to be Damon Watkins, the son of former Idaho Falls State Senator Dane Watkins, and the campaign chair of the Idaho Mitt Romney for President Campaign.

A native of Kellogg, journalist Chris Carlson pens his column from his retirement home near Medimont in Northern Idaho. He is a former teacher and was press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus.