Republican candidate for governor and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador held a rare news conference on Thursday to call out GOP challenger Tommy Ahlquist for “bringing fake news to Idaho,” referring specifically to a political ad being run ahead of the May primary election.
The congressman denounced several claims that Ahlquist’s campaign has made about Labrador’s voting record and office spending. He targeted a recent ad run by the independent Idaho First PAC that says Labrador has sponsored “zero bills that have become law.”
The claim is “the most shameful part of this whole event,” Labrador said. “... This is a complete and utter lie. There are over 20 bills I have sponsored or co-sponsored that have become law.”
The PAC supports Ahlquist, and its major donors include Ahlquist’s father, John T. Ahlquist Jr.
“Voters are usually not surprised when politicians exaggerate claims against their opponents so they can gain a political advantage,” Labrador said. “But Tommy’s campaign and his father’s PAC have done more than just simply exaggerate. They have lied.”
The comments were among the most pointed to date in Idaho’s gubernatorial GOP primary. Labrador and Ahlquist are among several Republican candidates – and two of the front-runners, along with Lt. Gov. Brad Little – for the job on the May 15 ballot.
“Unable to defend his record, it looks like Congressman Labrador is becoming unhinged,” Ahlquist campaign manager David Johnston told the Statesman later Thursday.
A message left for the Idaho First PAC was not immediately returned.
So has Labrador had any bills passed? Yes. He has specifically authored three pieces of legislation that have become law.
In December 2014, President Barack Obama signed a defense spending act that included two provisions authored by Labrador. One piece, introduced in 2013 as H.R.657, pertained to grazing permits on federal land. A second provision, introduced in 2014 as H.R.5040, conveyed 31 acres of federal land to Idaho County for use as a shooting range.
In August 2017, President Donald Trump signed a veterans education bill that included another measure authored by Labrador. The Shauna Hill Post 9/11 Education Benefits Transferability Act, H.R. 1112, addressed how education benefits are reassigned when a veteran’s beneficiary dies.
Labrador has been a co-sponsor of 18 other pieces of legislation that have become law.
He has asked that Idaho First PAC take down the ads.
Labrador also reiterated previous arguments that the majority of the votes he missed last year were primarily due to a family emergency when his son was in the hospital for a heart condition.
“What is most shameful is that Tommy and his campaign know that the number of votes that I have missed this term was because my youngest son had a heart condition and he had a complication that ended up with him in the (intensive care unit),” Labrador said. “I missed nearly two weeks of votes because of this. Shame on you Tommy.”
According to govtrack.us, Labrador has missed 234 roll call votes since he assumed congressional office in 2011, or about 4.7 percent of all votes he’s cast as a congressman. The site ranks Labrador slightly higher than other House members who have missed votes.
Ahlquist, who is running for political office for the first time, is an emergency room doctor turned developer. His campaign boasted earlier this year that with fundraising of $1.7 million in 2017, Ahlquist has raised more cash in a year than any gubernatorial race in Idaho history.
Campaign finance disclosure reports posted on the secretary of state’s website show Idaho First collected a total of $261,000 in 2017.
Labrador has struggled to compete with the cash flow, having just $638,000 available in the bank at the end of 2017.