From left to right: Coeur d’Alene attorney Arthur “Art” Macomber, former Idaho Congressman Raúl Labrador and incumbent Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden debate on Idaho Public Television on April 19. (Aaron Kunz/Idaho Public Television)
The three Republican candidates vying to be the nominee for Idaho attorney general debated each other over pandemic restrictions, state and federal lawsuits and the attorney general’s relationship with the Legislature on Tuesday night, with less than a month to go before the May 17 primary election.
Incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden defended his record against criticism from former Idaho Congressman Raúl Labrador and Coeur d’Alene attorney Arthur “Art” Macomber, who accused Wasden early in the debate of violating the Idaho Constitution for various actions or inaction related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wasden, who is running for a sixth term, said he followed the letter of the law and counseled the governor and other branches of government according to the constitution.
Labrador, who gave up his seat in Congress to run for Idaho governor in 2018 and lost in the primary to Gov. Brad Little, said he wants to be Idaho’s attorney general because he would stand up to the governor and the federal government. He emphasized several times that his actions as attorney general would be more aggressive than Wasden’s.
“The people of Idaho deserve a person of integrity who is aggressive in the actions that they take against the federal government and against big government overreach,” Labrador said.
The candidates also sparred over the role of the Idaho Legislature and its relationship with the attorney general. Labrador said he would get along better with the Legislature than Wasden, saying he has been endorsed by 33 legislators.
“They’re looking for a new attorney general. They don’t trust the attorney general anymore, they don’t trust his legal advice,” Labrador said. “Even when he gives good legal advice, they ignore it.”
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Wasden said some members of the Legislature are unwilling to accept legal advice based on the rule of law, and that is their choice.
“On one occasion I had a legislator who said, ‘We can do whatever we want, we’re the Idaho Legislature,’ and the answer is, ‘No, you can’t, you’re limited by the constitution,’” Wasden said.
During the exchange, Macomber said the argument displayed the need for the Idaho Legislature to have its own legal counsel, because another branch of government shouldn’t be giving the legislative branch legal advice.
“If that occurred, then the legislators that make the bills have their own attorneys in-house and then the attorney general can defend that later,” Macomber said.
He pointed to the recent law effectively banning most abortions in the state of Idaho, which was challenged in court by Planned Parenthood. In its legal documents, Macomber said Planned Parenthood cited the opinion of the attorney general that the law would likely be ruled unconstitutional if it passed.
“… We have to fix this in Idaho, my office will fix it,” he said.
Labrador agreed that the Legislature should have its own attorneys, and said he proposed the idea when he was a legislator.
The candidates also disagreed over what lawsuits Idaho should join against the federal government, including lawsuits related to the 2020 election. Wasden said the decisions to join lawsuits come down to the facts and the law, and if the right conditions aren’t met, it doesn’t make sense to move forward with a lawsuit that could cost taxpayers.
“You don’t join lawsuits simply because you want to gain political popularity or have your face on Fox News,” Wasden said.
Two more GOP debates are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday night with the candidates for superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state, respectively. The debates for lieutenant governor and governor were canceled because some candidates declined to participate, including Little.
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