Two years ago this month, the smart money held that incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick would beat surprise GOP congressional nominee Raul Labrador.
Instead, Labrador rode the tea party wave, winning easily. Now, hes characterized as a leader among the freshman class that was willing to confront House Speaker John Boehner and his allies, including seven-term Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho.
A new book by Robert Draper, Do Not Ask What Good We Do, is an account of how 87 freshmen Republicans have proved difficult for Boehner to manage and nearly forced a government shutdown.
Draper describes Labradors obnoxious outbursts and depicts him lunging for the microphone to criticize Boehner. Still, Labrador has won respect from leadership. They saw Labrador as an eventual legislative heavyweight assuming he could be persuaded to stick around long enough.
A story last month in The Washington Post based on an advance copy of the book described Labrador as having openly mused about expelling the speaker and every committee chairman.
Relying on the Post account, National Public Radio said Labrador suggested ousting Boehner and the Statesmans Idaho Politics blog said he was trying to expel the speaker.
Labrador says he was simply recalling how Speaker Newt Gingrich was nearly ousted in 1997.
What I said was a historical fact, Labrador said in an interview last week after he read the book. Remember what happened to Newt Gingrich. It only took 10 people to take him down. So, if youre punishing freshmen, this is whats going to happen. I wasnt threatening, I wasnt trying to start a cabal of people to take down the speaker.
I think Labradors right. Writes Draper: Labrador was hearing whispered threats that the dissenters on the major votes would be punished. If that happened, Labrador could easily foresee a coup against Boehner.
Draper doesnt say Labrador was pushing to topple Boehner. Rather, he was arguing that if Boehner overplayed his hand, hed be vulnerable because enough anti-establishment freshmen would stand against him.
Labrador said he met with Draper six or seven times in Washington, D.C., and joined him in Idaho last summer. Labrador marveled at Drapers sources inside the GOP caucus. He knew verbatim what Id said. Im like, Did you have a microphone in there?
Labrador, who famously clashed as an Idaho state legislator with Gov. Butch Otter over increases in highway taxes in 2009, told me he pinches himself at how swiftly life has changed.
I sometimes think, Wow, this is crazy. In the last year and a half Ive been in the middle of every major debate that has happened back in Washington. And sometimes I sit there and I think, OK, is this real? Am I just dreaming this? Because its been pretty amazing. Its been quite a ride.
Draper accurately describes Labradors misgivings about Congress: The Idaho freshman hated being away from his young family, hated sleeping in his office; and for that matter he was not altogether impressed with what he had seen from the House of Representatives.
Labrador confirms that hes reversed himself and now favors term limits of 12 years in each chamber, because, as Draper writes, he has seen how cynical and entrenched the senior members were.
Speculation that Labrador will run for governor in 2014 should he be re-elected is rife. At 44, he sleeps on an air mattress in the Longworth Building three or four nights a week, flying home for long weekends in Eagle. Four of his five children are still at home.
I dont know if Im going to run for governor, he told me. I wont stay any longer than I need to. I want to change the way Washington does business, but I have no plans, I really dont.
Luckily, I have a lot of potential. I find it really flattering that two years ago people were saying I could not even get elected, and now people are asking me about my future. I take things one step at a time. Theres so many opportunities in my future and I will be exploring all those opportunities.
Assuming he beats Democrat Jimmy Farris in November, will Labrador quickly decide on a governors race, as then-U.S. Rep. Otter did after his re-election in 2004?
Well see, Labrador said.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438