Idaho's James Piotrowski talks about Congress
James Piotrowski’s fight on behalf of some of the most powerless Idahoans shows how hard he’ll work to help all of the people in the 1st Congressional District, says the mother of one of those people.
The Boise labor and civil rights lawyer is running as a Democrat against Republican Raul Labrador. He says he is passionate about the constitutional rights of people like Kyle Warner, who can’t speak on his own behalf.
Warner, who lives in Deary, caught meningitis at 5 months of age and his family was told he would never walk, talk, see or hear. Today, at 35, he has the mental capacity of an 18-month-old, but he can walk, see and hear.
Instead of institutionalizing him, parents DellRae and Greg Warner have raised him at home with 24-hour care that costs less than half the cost of hospitalization in a state hospital. They run a family café in Deary and Greg works in the woods as a sawyer.
In 2010, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare sought to reduce the rate paid to the family and other caregivers. Piotrowski represented the Warners in their appeal and they won. Under state law then, that was supposed to be the end of it.
But the Idaho Legislature changed the law and H&W sought to cut their Medicaid payment again in 2011. Piotrowski, along with the ACLU, sued the state in 2011 and got a judge to halt the cuts in 2014. In March after a long and complex fight, Idaho federal judge B. Lynn Winmill approved a settlement that recognizes Kyle’s right to the level of care he gets, as well as the rights of 3,600 other Idahoans like him.
“James truly believes in these families,” Warner said. “He just wants to make the world a better place. He does it because it’s the right thing to do.”
We would have never made it through this without James.
DellRae Warner, mother of Kyle Warner, lead plaintiff in a case upholding the rights of developmentally disabled Idahoans.
Piotrowski says he wasn’t simply helping out families in need. He was fighting for the rights that are shared by Idahoans of all political persuasions.
“I believe in the Constitution largely as written because I know how it’s written. I know what those words are and I feel really strongly about them,” Piotrowski said. “I have to go make arguments about what the Constitution means in court to other people who are highly educated about the topic. I feel really strongly that the Constitution needs to be enforced on a regular basis, and that’s exactly what I do.”
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
He said that resonates with Idahoans he meets on the campaign who are willing to talk to a Democrat. He said about two-thirds of the voters he talked to on a recent trip down Orofino’s Main Street were willing to engage and he was able to find some common ground.
“Idahoans genuinely want to help each other,” Piotrowski said. “What people want to do is they want to take care of their families; then if they can, they want to take care of their friends; then if they can, they want to take care of the strangers around them. That’s human nature, Idaho nature.”
He’s not talking about handouts, he said. He talks about infrastructure, investing in education and local communities.
“People respond to that,” he said.
Piotrowski, 49, and his wife, Sandy, moved to Boise in 1998 from Cleveland, where he went to college and law school. They moved this month from Boise’s North End to Eagle with their son and daughter, Marshall and Maddie.
Sandy, works part time as victim-witness coordinator for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and part time for the Veterans Administration on home care. Both Piotrowskis chose careers tied to service.
“He wants to take care of people,” Sandy Piotrowski said of her husband. “He looks out for them.”
The whole family loves the outdoors, she said, going camping, hiking, skiing and climbing. James especially loves fly-fishing and has been active in Trout Unlimited, volunteering on habitat-improvement projects and serving as president of the Ted Trueblood Chapter and the state board.
That has made him a strong advocate for protecting Idaho’s rivers and public lands. He has focused his campaign on opposing transfer of federal lands to states and selling off public lands.
A PASSION FOR VETERANS
The son of a U.S. Army officer, he moved around the country growing up. His father, Leonard, died in 2015 of illness linked to his Agent Orange contamination in Vietnam. He watched his father suffer after coming home from the war. He also watched other veterans, who were not officers, try to work their way through the system.
“One of things I want to work on is ensure that every soldier, sailor, gets the care he got,” said Piotrowski. “He was an officer. He knew how to get the care he needed. Many of our veterans do not.”
Piotrowski said Idaho has a high percentage of veterans in its population and he wants to make sure the Veterans Administration is fully funded and not privatized.
“Medical care for veterans is a specialty,” he said. “You can’t just send them down to St. Luke’s.”
He noted that Labrador was the only member in the House who voted in 2014 against the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 2015.
Piotrowski says it’s part of Labrador’s disdain for governing and his effort to make a name for himself in national politics. It has come at the expense of the needs of people in Idaho.
“What he’s accomplished for the 1st District of Idaho is exactly nothing,” Piotrowski said. “If anything, he’s probably hurt it.”
I have very little interest in national politics. I like to help people.
Piotrowski said he would do just the opposite.
“You work with your friends to make things happen for the people you represent,” he said. “Ultimately your job is to represent your district and the people of your district, whether they voted for you or not.”
Piotrowski points to the legal cases, including Kyle Warner’s, that often are resolved with settlements. They aren’t easy, but they are the way we move forward in our democracy.
“I never ask people to give up what is most important to them, and I’m not willing to give up on my principles,” he said.