Dan Popkey: Idaho Rep. Labrador's 'support' of Simpson satirized

Boehner comes ready with a joke for a man who refused to back him for House speaker.

August 28, 2013 

House Speaker John Boehner drew applause from a crowd of 430 backing 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson with a clear misstatement: He said Simpson's 1st District colleague and fellow Republican was backing Simpson in his primary race.

"I want to thank Raul Labrador for being here today and being supportive of his colleague in his re-election bid," Boehner said Monday at a Boise event that raised more than $95,000 for Simpson's campaign for a ninth term.

Trouble is, Labrador has said he will remain neutral in the contest between Simpson and tea party challenger Bryan Smith, who is endorsed by Club for Growth. Labrador is allied with tea party groups and the anti-tax Club for Growth, which Simpson expects to raise up to $2 million for Smith.

Speaking before Boehner, Simpson recognized a sparkling list of GOP luminaries as evidence of the Republican establishment's support: Gov. Butch Otter, first lady Lori Otter, former Gov. Phil Batt, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and state Controller Brandon Woolf.

Then, Simpson said this without making any claim of support: "We have the congressman from the 1st Congressional District, Raul Labrador, and his wife, Becca."

Simpson went on noting others in the crowd, including Iowa GOP Congressman Tom Latham, one of Simpson's best friends in Congress; Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke; and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who holds a nonpartisan office but is a leading Democrat.

Simpson also asked about 20 Idaho legislators on hand to raise their hands. Finally, he thanked the two organizers of the event: former Idaho Republican Chairman Kirk Sullivan, who Labrador helped oust over Otter's objection in 2008; and Mark Dunn, a longtime lobbyist for the J.R. Simplot Co.

I'm not sure what Emily Post would say, but I can't see how Labrador could have felt anything but the victim of a Boehner prank with a mean edge. Few in the crowd were ignorant of Labrador's vow not to take sides in the race.

After the lunch, I asked Simpson spokeswoman Nikki Watts whether Labrador had decided to back Simpson. "He bought a ticket," she snapped.

I tried to catch Labrador, but he quickly scooted behind the security screen at the back of the podium in the ballroom at the Boise Centre. Later, he replied to my text, asking whether he'd changed his mind.

"Yes, he misspoke," replied Labrador.

My prank theory is bolstered by the fact that Boehner spoke in the same room where Simpson ripped Labrador as a member of a rebel group that tried to oust Boehner in January. Labrador himself received one vote for speaker and twice refused to vote for Boehner when his name was called by the House clerk.

Simpson lashed out during an interview before the start of a Jan. 12 City Club of Boise forum, calling the conspirators "irresponsible" and arguing that they had "substantially lost credibility" and misunderstood the majority party's responsibility to govern.

Of Labrador, Simpson said, "He just didn't vote. Which, as anyone who's ever been in a legislative body will tell you, you got one thing going for you, and that's your credibility. And once you lose that ... it's gone forever."

Labrador replied that Simpson was a bully and "an old-school legislator that went to Washington, D.C., to compromise." Labrador added that Simpson might have been able to bully former 1st District Congressman Bill Sali, but that tactic "doesn't work with me."

My take is Labrador attended Monday because to do so was good form. And I suspect Boehner's use of Labrador's presence to make him a punch line won't be soon forgotten.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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