Magazine article The American Conservative

Raúl Labrador's Revolt

Magazine article The American Conservative

Raúl Labrador's Revolt

Article excerpt

Why this Idaho congressman won Justin Amashs vote to replace Speaker Boehner

The House Liberty Caucus isn't afraid to stir up a revolution in Congress. Its conservative-libertarian members include well-known "troublemakers" like Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, one of 12 Republicans to oppose House Speaker John Boehner's reelection in January 2013. Amash, chairman of the Liberty Caucus, warned at the time that a "larger rebellion" could take place in the future-and this April, National Journal reported that as many as 40 or 50 dissident House Republicans have now committed verbally to electing a new speaker.

This Tea Party vanguard has yet to put forward a contender to replace Boehner. But the kind of legislator they have in mind is suggested by the man Amash himself voted for as speaker in 2013: Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador. Amash told Buzzfeed reporter Kate Nocera that Labrador is "the kind of guy who would make a good leader in our party," and he "would vote for him for speaker again."

So who is this Idaho congressman?

Raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico by a single mother, Labrador worked his way from poverty to law school and from the state legislature to Congress. Though she lost her job when her son was born, Labrador's mother Ana Pastor refused to turn to welfare. She told Labrador government dependency led to a "decay of the soul." She was a Democrat and saw JFK as her hero-but during the 1980s, she switched parties to vote for Ronald Reagan. Her son took note and now cites Reagan as his political role model.

"He made us feel safe," Labrador says. "There was an assurance in his gaze and a steadiness in his leadership that made America feel better about itself, and I think, more than anything, that's what he did for me."

Pastor and her son moved to Las Vegas in 1980. After high school, Labrador enrolled at Brigham Young University, where he met future wife Rebecca Johnson, and thereafter earned his law degree from the University of Washington. Labrador and his wife moved to her native state, Idaho, in 1996, and Labrador set up a law practice in 2000 specializing in immigration.

In 2003, Labrador spoke to Latino voters in Boise and caught the attention of former Idaho House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet. Afterwards, reports Kip Hill of the local Spokesman Review, she asked Labrador whether he'd be interested in running for office as a Democrat. He laughed and told her, "No, no, I'm a conservative Republican."

"It wasn't the first time, nor would it be the last, that the political establishment would be surprised by Labrador," notes Hill.

Labrador won a state legislature seat in 2006 and quickly made waves in the capitol. He organized group discussions with freshman legislators about taxes and other pending issues. In his biggest move, he successfully challenged Republican Governor Butch Otter's plan to raise taxes to fund roads and bridges.

"I realized I had certain abilities and certain gifts-persuasion and others-that allowed me to be pretty good at this game," Labrador says.

daho's first district is, in Labrador's words, "an interesting district." In presidential contests, it's always Republican. But the district stretches across the entire west side of the state: a long, thin swath of ideological and partisan variations. One thing unites it, according to Labrador: "It's a very independent district." He says his constituents don't bother voting along partisan lines-"they just want fiercely independent people."

When Labrador decided to run for Congress in 2010, no one thought a win would be possible. Walt Minnick, the incumbent, was a rather conservative Democrat: he even received a Tea Party Express endorsement. He was well known in the business community and liked by his district. Many other politicians who imagined themselves "next in line" for the seat, says Labrador, thought Minnick unbeatable.

Instead of backing Labrador, the GOP establishment endorsed another candidate in the party's primary: former CIA officer and military veteran Vaughn Ward. …

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