James Piotrowski has heard endless skepticism about his chances of defeating incumbent Republican Rep. Raul Labrador as he calls potential donors seeking the seven figures in campaign funds he believes he needs to win.
The Boise Democrat and attorney, who specializes in civil rights, workers rights and disability law, says he knows impossible causes. He doesn’t think beating Labrador is one of them.
“To me, this is a lot like fly-fishing,” he said. “If I pick the right fly, if I choose the right line, if I make a really good presentation, then the fish has a chance to come up and take my fly, but it really depends on the fish.”
Before Piotrowski, 48, can take on Labrador, he faces Staniela Nikolova, a University of Idaho senior from Moscow, in the Democratic primary Tuesday. Her challenge has been to show she’s a serious candidate.
“I’m trying to do something different,” said Nikolova. “I hate the role that money plays in politics.”
The 1st Congressional District covers North and Southwest Idaho, including part of Boise. Labrador is seeking his fourth term.
Nikolova, a psychology and microbiology major who will graduate this month, has funded her own campaign so far; her website asks supporters to limit donations to $10. She has tried to use social media and other digital tools to reach out to voters who will be attracted to her message about accountability in politics, getting Congress to compromise, raising the minimum wage and reducing the cost of higher education.
Nikolova, a lifelong Idahoan who grew up in Twin Falls, said that Republicans’ lack of understanding of climate change is a reason to elect a scientist to Congress. She also noted her youth.
“We don’t have anyone under the age of 30 in Congress,” said Nikolova, 27.
“Labrador is part of the party who shut down the government. I think he’s representing his party and not seeking bipartisan solutions.”
She tried to convince Idaho Public Television and its partners the Idaho Press Club and League of Women Voters she was running an active campaign. But the organizers decided not to hold a Democratic debate for the 1st Congressional District.
Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television said decisions on whether to hold debates were based on materials submitted by the candidates, which include press coverage, campaign staff and volunteers, advertising and other efforts. Two candidates must qualify for a debate to be scheduled. Shizandra Fox, of Glen Ellen, Calif., also appears on the Democratic ballot.
Davlin would not comment on any specific candidates’ qualifications, but pointed out there was no debate in the Republican primary either.
“This is not a partisan issue,” she said.
PROMPTED TO RUN NOW
Former Gov. Cecil Andrus endorsed Piotrowski, pointing to his efforts on behalf of working people and his ability to bring people together to solve problems.
Piotrowski said he’d planned to run in 2018 but was persuaded by Democrats to run now. The avid angler and outdoorsman said Labrador’s support for transferring public lands to states was his main motivation and why he thinks he has a chance.
“I do think this is a race that can be won,” Piotrowski said. “His public lands transfer idea is one of his dumbest and one of his least Idahoan ideas ever, and one he’s staking his candidacy on.
“I don’t think Idaho is going there with him.”
Labrador has long supported a pilot program to turn management of 200,000 acres of public land in Idaho over to the state. But he went a step further supporting transferring ownership when he joined the Federal Land Action Group, headed by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, Piotrowski said.
“It’s a group of 10 of the most anti-public lands members in Congress,” Piotrowski said.
But the self-described Army brat said he is not a one-issue candidate. He wants the federal government to invest infrastructure in Idaho such as roads, bridges and high-capacity communication systems. He wants to make higher education cheaper, and he said the federal government should invest more in the state for forest restoration to grow the forest products industry. Labrador, he noted, voted for a government shutdown during budget negotiations.
“I think government is important. That’s why I’m a Democrat,” Piotrowski said.
Nontraditional Republican challenges Labrador
Gordon Counsil, of Caldwell, is running against Raul Labrador in the Republican primary because he doesn’t like the congressman’s positions on free trade and the regulation of Wall Street.
Counsil, who is retired, worked in retail and as a farmer. He said he is a self-taught economist. He wants a single-payer health care system like Canada’s and he opposes free-trade agreements that allow huge trade deficits. He said his platform doesn’t conform to the party’s.
“It’s like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump,” Counsil said.
He said he’s a registered Republican but didn’t vote in the presidential primary in March.
Isaac Haugen, of Santa Rosa, Calif, also appears on the Republican ballot.