In the Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District, multiple candidates are vying to out-Trump Trump and out-Labrador Labrador, including candidates who have stronger records of working across the aisle than their extremist rhetoric suggests.
But this is the closed GOP primary election, and in Republican-dominated Idaho it's often the Republican primary that decides the ultimate winner. That’s likely true in this race, with three little-known Democrats in a low-key contest for the nomination in their party.
So we suggest this test for deciding the 1st Congressional District: Who would be best suited to be a partner to veteran Republican 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson, who’s served since 1999?
That was not the role that Congressman Raul Labrador, now running for governor, filled in his four terms in Congress. Labrador butted heads with Simpson, challenged his party leaders and often voted against bills that would benefit Idaho in his consistent opposition to federal spending. A case in point: Of Idaho’s two representatives and two senators, only Simpson voted for the final, if imperfect, spending bill that included critical money for forest-firefighting, INL and aid for rural Idaho schools.
Congress is an exercise in trade-offs and balancing competing interests, and we don’t need to send another person to Congress for whom compromise is a dirty word.
The candidate who best understands that balance is Coeur d’Alene Rep. Luke Malek. At age 36, Malek has the time to develop congressional seniority and a philosophy and temperament suited to working with others with whom he disagrees, as his legislative work in North Idaho indicates.
Candidate David Leroy has a similar temperament. Leroy was a successful Republican attorney general and lieutenant governor from 1978 through 1986, before losing the race for governor to Cecil Andrus. “The experience Washington needs right now is a little gray hair, a lot of good judgment and perhaps a touch of statesmanship,” he said at one of the debates.
Statesmanship is lacking in Congress, but Leroy’s own promise to limit his service to a handful of terms would restrict his effectiveness and his ability to develop the seniority that translates into congressional power. Leroy also has a record as a pragmatic conservative that has been disguised by the hard-right platform he has adopted in this primary.
Only Malek in this race had been willing to criticize President Donald Trump. While endorsing Trump policies, he takes issue -- as he should -- with Trump's coarse language about his freedom as a celebrity to abuse women.
Contrast that to candidate Russ Fulcher, who has a TV ad in which his mother hopes her son wins so that he will introduce her to President Trump. Former state Sen. Fulcher, to his credit, campaigns with a positive, hopeful tone. But he’s in this race after having switched from running for governor, and has given voters little sense of why he wants to serve in Congress rather than in the Statehouse.
Rep. Christy Perry stands out in this field as “the girl with all the guns,” a fair claim for the owner of a gun shop to make. But in her rush to the right, you’d barely know she has been a longtime supporter for early-childhood education in Idaho and played a courageous role in the Legislature trying to broaden medical care for Idaho’s gap population.
Michael Snyder is a conservative writer and blogger whose extreme views put him beyond even the strongly conservative base of the Idaho GOP electorate. At one debate at Mountain View High School, he prowled the stage pointing at his fellow candidates and accusing them of being too liberal, too lackluster in their loyalty to Trump and too slow to gut government. It’s hard to see him developing credibility and connections with the nation’s diverse members of Congress when he treats fellow Idaho Republicans that way.
Congress is an institution in which power and stature comes with relationship-building and seniority, not extremism and finger-pointing. Based on his combination of youth, smarts, independence and willingness to speak truth to Trump, we believe Luke Malek is best able to develop into the member of Congress Idaho needs.