Letters from the West

Cruz talks about nuclear waste, selling public lands

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both showed this weekend they believe Idaho is important for their efforts to hold off the nomination of Donald Trump.

The two U.S. Senators stump speeches are remarkably similar delivered in polished fashion. Both spoke about the 2nd Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court, tax cuts, beefing up the military and the threat to America posed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Neither seemed too worried about Bernie Sanders.

Where they went told us a lot about where they expect to pick up votes. Cruz went to Coeur d’ Alene Saturday, the heart of Idaho’s new conservative movement where thousands of former Californians, largely Evangelical Christian, have moved.

Rubio went to Idaho Falls, the home of his supporter Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot and the Idaho National Laboratory. Both came to Boise, though Cruz’ visit was last minute, limiting his turnout at Boise State University Saturday.

The big contrast was on the Idaho National Laboratory, where Cruz used the Department of Energy site as an example of the kind of crony capitalism he hopes to end when he gets rid of the department if President. He did say nuclear cleanup was a top priority that should continue under another department, perhaps Interior.

The recognition that Cruz’ comments might serious depress his support in eastern Idaho prompted Norm Semanko, one of his Idaho supporters, to send me this statement from Alice Stewart, communications director for the Cruz campaign:

“The people of Idaho should know that Cruz strongly supports the mission of Idaho National Labs.

As part of Cruz’s “Five for Freedom” spending reform plan, Cruz states: “a few programs--such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Nuclear Defense Capabilities, and cleanup and decontamination programs--maintain our security and should be transferred to other departments."

The Idaho National Laboratory fits squarely within that provision, as it has functions that are critical to our defense and national security. The INL will therefore be preserved and moved to the Department of Defense.

However, the central nuclear energy research mission of the INL does not fit under her definition.

Rubio, who did not meet with reporters in Boise, let Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, speak of the Florida Senator’s commitment to nuclear energy and the Idaho National Laboratory, an obligatory nod in the city whose economy is tied to the DOE site and its contractors.

Cruz also doubled down on his support for transferring public lands to states and even private individuals, using Texas as an example with only 2 percent public lands., which he said was too much. Trump, who never came to Idaho though his supporters held a rally in Boise Saturday, has rejected transferring public lands from the federal government in Nevada, a state he won despite Cruz ads on the issue.

Trump’s main effort in Idaho was to tweet: “thank you Idaho I love your potatoes.” But he was leading in the Idaho Politics Weekly poll.

Rubio told his crowd of 2,500 Sunday Idaho was crucial to restarting the campaign. Both he and Cruz are seeking to prevent Trump from winning the nomination outright, which won’t happen at least until May based on delegate counts.

But If Rubio or Cruz can beat Trump in Idaho, Rubio somehow pull out Florida, Gov. John Kasich hold his home state of Ohio there is a good chance the nomination goes to the convention before it’s over. Cruz still likely has a path to win it outright but for Rubio the path may run to a pact with Kasich to combine forces with one or the other at the top of the ticket.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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