Elections

2nd GOP candidate now favors term limits, financial scrutiny of elected officials

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador smiles after answering a question from an attendee during an April 2017 town hall in Meridian. Labrador is running for governor.
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador smiles after answering a question from an attendee during an April 2017 town hall in Meridian. Labrador is running for governor.

A second leading Republican candidate for governor now says he would pursue term limits, some form of financial disclosure requirements and other reforms targeting Idaho politicians.

The proposals by U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador come on the heels of the Republican-dominated Legislature showing signs it will continue to resist such reforms.

The House State Affairs Committee on Jan. 17 shot down its own chairman’s bill to require elected officials to annually disclose their financial interests — the product of a bipartisan working group that met last summer. This means Idaho will remain one of two states in the country that do not require elected officials to reveal any information about their finances, a tool that can help indicate conflicts of interest with pending bills and budgets.

Idaho’s House Democratic caucus took umbrage, and on Monday voted unanimously to voluntarily release their own personal financial information. House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said the action is more than symbolic.

“Once again, Democrats are leading with our values,” Erpelding said in a news release. “Hardworking Idaho families have a right to know of conflicts of interest. Transparency is one of the best ways to guarantee that our state government focuses on the right priorities to create a brighter future for all Idahoans.”

Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist, also a GOP candidate for governor, included financial disclosures, term limits and other topics among a series of ethics reforms he proposed in September.

Labrador’s goals, announced Tuesday, cover several of the same topics, including ending a practice known as “pension-spiking” that benefits legislators who move on to other state government employment. Labrador in addition wants to kick special interest groups that lobby the Legislature off of the state’s retirement system, and he wants to improve oversight of state contracting practices.

“The establishment is scared of what I will do as governor to break the cycle of cronyism in government,” Labrador said in a news release. “Those who feel entitled to enrich themselves on the backs of taxpayers have to be stopped.”

Labrador’s proposals include:

▪  Review the state’s contracting process and work with the Legislature to close loopholes, increase oversight and make state contracting more accountable to taxpayers. Labrador specifically cited a past contract for a statewide broadband system serving schools, which a judge eventually ruled was illegally awarded; last fall, the Associated Press estimated the botched project cost taxpayers roughly $40 million.

“In Idaho government, political connections sometimes impact how policies are developed and contracts are awarded. Sweetheart deals and special favors have become both costly and normal,” he said. “Cronyism and favoritism have no place in government.”

▪  Work with citizens and lawmakers to amend the Idaho Constitution to include term limits for statewide elected officials and legislators. Idaho voters approved term limit laws in the mid-’90s, but the Legislature repealed them in early 2002, the first time a state legislature overturned a public vote on that issue.

“Term limits allow fresh ideas and innovations to rise to the surface, and can help stop corruption and cronyism from taking root,” Labrador said. “Conversely, concentrating power into the hands of people who have been in office for too long can lead to cronyism and, at minimum, a belief that political favoritism is behind policy decisions.”

▪  Require all state and local elected officials to disclose potential conflicts of interest and work with the Legislature to make “bribery and insider deal” laws more clear and enforceable. While this could include a financial disclosure law, Labrador’s wording stops short of calling for the kind of legislation House State Affairs examined this month.

“Even the appearance of corruption can erode public confidence in government. It’s well past time for Idaho to require a thorough disclosure of potential conflicts of interest,” he said.

▪  Close a loophole that allows part-time legislators who transition into full-time Idaho government employment to receive full retirement benefits — the pension-spiking.

Labrador will need lawmakers’ support to make his proposals reality. As with other policy proposals he’s released this month, it’s not clear how he plans to reverse years of legislative resistance to many of these ideas. Campaign staff say his “conservative leadership will make that happen.”

“Idahoans are so frustrated with politicians who make empty promises, cut back room deals and pick winners and losers,” campaign manager China Veldhouse Gum said. “The establishment might not like some of the conservative ideas Raúl Labrador is putting forward, but Idahoans all over the state are excited about seeing a government that will put Idaho families ahead of the political class.”

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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