Editor’s note: This profile is excerpted from a story that originally appeared in the Statesman in May 2010, before Raul Labrador defeated Vaughn Ward in the Republican primary. Labrador then beat Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick in November 2010 to win the 1st District seat.
Raul Labrador was born Dec. 8, 1967, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. His mother, Ana Pastor, 26, was unmarried; his father was married with five sons. A tourism official, Jose Labrador did not leave his wife. He did see his son once a year, to bring him a birthday gift.
Pastor lost her job in advertising for having a child out of wedlock but became a TV personality who hosted “10 minutos para ti” (Ten Minutes for You) and the 3 o’clock movie. Later, she became the first woman sales rep for Mars Inc. in Puerto Rico.
She sent Raul to private schools, including four years at a military academy and two years in a bilingual school, to ready him for the mainland. “Every single decision was based on what was best for me, “ he said.
In 1981, they arrived in Las Vegas and within months joined the LDS Church. It became the family’s rock. Raul helped out at Deseret Industries while the family was supported by the church during a lean stretch.
Labrador’s LDS bishop, Ed Smith, became a surrogate father. A partner in Sun Pacific, a major California orange grower, Smith said, “I saw something unusual in a young fellow with wonderful capabilities. He didn’t let me down.”
Smith and his wife paid for Labrador’s college, sending him off to Brigham Young University in a 1976 Datsun salvaged from Smith’s wrecking yard.
MISSION AND MARRIAGE
After the 1985-86 school year at BYU, Labrador worked at a Las Vegas Cadillac dealership. From January 1987 to January 1989, he was in Chile on an LDS mission. He was chosen as one of two assistants to the mission president. The other was Tim Barney of Utah. “He cared about the people we were trying to teach, but he cared just as much, if not more, about the missionaries,” Barney said. “He wanted them to develop life skills. He was always concerned they weren’t learning good work habits or learning to concentrate and that was going to carry over in their lives and careers.”
Back at BYU, Labrador met Becca Johnson, one of 11 children of Ted and Jan Johnson of Boise. The Johnsons founded Skyline Development Co., which has developed homes for more than 15,000 people. The couple also founded the Boise Research Center, near Hewlett-Packard. They married June 28, 1991, in the Las Vegas Temple. Now with five children, they are members of the Eagle 2nd Ward, where Labrador teaches Sunday school.
Labrador earned his degree in Spanish in 1992, as his mother earned her teaching degree at UNLV. Becca also completed her studies in 1992; she has a master’s in education and a specialist’s degree in school psychology. The couple lived briefly in Boise, where their first child, Michael, was born. The Labradors then moved to Seattle, and Labrador earned his law degree from the University of Washington in 1995.
BUILDING A BUSINESS
Labrador was a law clerk in the U.S. attorney’s office and worked in a private firm in Seattle before returning to Boise in 1996. He was a federal court law clerk and staff attorney for 18 months and spent almost two years as an associate attorney at two Boise firms. In 2000, he opened Labrador Law Offices in Boise and Nampa.
Among his first clients was Javier Sotelo, a Mexican citizen and lawful permanent resident since 1990. Sotelo smuggled illegal immigrants to the United States for $1,500 each and charged them rent in Idaho. In 2000, he was convicted of passing fraudulent green cards, failing to provide migrant workers with terms and conditions of employment, and aiding and abetting illegal entry. He was sentenced to serve eight months.
Labrador’s role was handling an appeal of Sotelo’s deportation. The appeal was denied in 2001. Labrador says he learned at trial that his client was wanted for murder in Mexico.
Said Labrador: “My job as an immigration lawyer is to present to the judge a case and say, yes, he committed the crimes, and he’s coming to ask forgiveness of the court. Will you allow him to stay in the United States?”
Labrador’s business thrived, employing as many as nine. In 2002, he was named to the Idaho Business Review’s list of accomplished business leaders under age 40.
ENTERING THE ARENA
Labrador’s mother was a Democrat. “JFK was her hero,” he said, and she adored the Kennedy family. She once took Raul to a Ted Kennedy rally in Puerto Rico.
“She felt strongly the responsibility to achieve something in life and then to give back,” Labrador said. “For her, politics was not a dirty word. It was a noble endeavor because you could change people’s lives.”
During the Reagan presidency, she changed allegiances and registered as a Republican. “She switched because of one person, Ronald Reagan, and I became a Reagan aficionado,” Labrador said. “I always had in the back of my mind that public service was something I should aspire to.”
But Ana Pastor didn’t see Labrador enter politics. In 2005, after a decade of kidney troubles, she died at her son’s home in Eagle.
A year later, Labrador was elected to the House. He was part of a cohort of conservative freshmen who helped push the chamber further right under new Speaker Lawerence Denney. Labrador made powerful enemies when he led successful fights against Gov. Butch Otter’s choice for state GOP chairman in 2008 and Otter’s call to raise fuel taxes in 2009. Labrador built a reputation for opposing popular measures. Among those were a ban on texting while driving, which he called unenforceable; and a call to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban health insurance mandates, which he said would needlessly clutter a “sacred document.”
Minnick beat GOP Rep. Bill Sali in November 2008 by 1 percent of the vote in an overwhelmingly Republican district. The party figured its best chance to regain the seat would come after Minnick’s first term, before he became a hard-to-beat incumbent.
The opportunity brought talk about a quartet of well-known Republicans: state Treasurer Ron Crane, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and state Sen. John McGee of Caldwell. But all four took a pass.
Labrador eyed the race, but he held off when House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts of Donnelly entered in June. Roberts had trouble raising money and, in November 2009, citing a health scare, withdrew.
Labrador announced in December 2009. Sali later endorsed Labrador.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438