Idaho Dems couldn’t get a watchdog over government fraud. Can a new governor do it?

The Idaho Statehouse in Boise.
The Idaho Statehouse in Boise. Idaho Statesman file

If elected, Raúl Labrador says he would reduce fraud and mismanagement in Idaho government by creating a hotline to anonymously report problems, and an independent special unit to investigate them.

“There’s currently no easy way for citizens and whistleblowers inside government agencies to anonymously report waste or corruption,” the Republican candidate for governor said in a news release. “As governor, I’ll create an internet portal for concerned citizens and state employees to report their concerns about government waste and corruption. Tips received will be aggressively followed up and investigated.”

The proposal is similar to an idea Democratic lawmakers have pushed for years, to create an independent office of inspector general to investigate complaints of government waste and abuse. Their past proposals did not gain any traction and the bills did not get heard.

Former Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, attributed his bills’ failures in 2014 and 2015 to party prickliness. “What happens when you start something, and particularly when you start it as a Democrat, is it’s viewed as an attack on the governor, the Republican Party, the Republican Legislature, and then it becomes a team game instead of a ‘What’s right for the state’ game,” he said at the time.

Most recently, the effort to create an inspector general became bipartisan, with Reps. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, and Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, leading an unsuccessful attempt to introduce a bill.

It is unclear how Idaho’s Legislature would react to such a proposal if it came from a Republican governor. When asked how Labrador would handle any legislative resistance to his proposal, his campaign responded, “Leadership.”

The hotline and investigatory agency are among several items outlined Wednesday in Labrador’s plan to increase government accountability and transparency. He is one of several Republican contenders for governor in the May 15 primary, also including Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist.

Ahlquist responded: “I believe that there is already a hotline and office that has been created to fight wasteful government spending, fraud and abuse — it is called the governor’s office. As governor, I will continue to personally listen to Idahoans who have cited many examples of wasteful spending and will use my real world experience to review line by line the budget with a fresh set of outside eyes to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse.”

Little was not immediately available for comment.

Labrador also wants to expand publishing spending data for all state agencies online and make it easier for citizens to find out what their government is up to.

“As governor, I’ll work with the Legislature to pass legislation that closes loopholes in Idaho’s open meetings law and additionally requires public agencies to post meeting notices, agendas, and minutes at a centralized, publicly accessible website,” he said.

And, Labrador wants to modernize Idaho’s public records laws. He said he would support legislation to increase penalties for bureaucrats who willfully violate the law, and shorten the time periods agencies have to fulfill most requests. He would also seek to make information stored in databases more accessible, and make it easier for Idahoans to receive more government records for free or at low cost.

“I will not allow the government abuses that have become all too common to continue. No longer will broadband contracts be awarded illegally, taxpayer monies be wasted, whistleblowers be unfairly singled out, and millions of your tax dollars spent on urban renewal projects without adequate oversight,” Labrador said in the news release.

Labrador presented the plan as “the second plank of his conservative vision for a stronger Idaho.”

Earlier this month, he released a set of policy proposals focused on the economy and taxes.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell