Congressman Raul Labrador may have ingratiated himself to Congressional leadership with his support of John Boehner to retain the Speaker’s gavel Tuesday but it may have cost himself grassroots support at home. Despite opposing Boehner in 2013 and 25 members voting against or for somebody else than Boehner Labrador opted to stick with the Speaker earlier this week.
Labrador has a history of strong grassroots support in Idaho. In 2009, the then two term state representative took on the party’s favorite in the 1st CD Primary to take on Walt Minnick. Thanks to some gaffes Labrador cruised to a primary win and exploited the anti-Democratic wave to easily defeat Minnick. Unike Mike Simpson in the neighboring 2nd Labrador has not been much of a friend of the establishment. Elected by the Tea Party he has largely towed their line.
But there have been deviations. In 2011 he voted for sequestration when many other Republican members who considered themselves Tea Party members did not. More recently, in 2014, Labrador voted for the widely chastised Farm Bill. Now, Labrador has sided with the dreaded “establishment” again and supported Boehner. Offering a defense for his vote on his Facebook page the comment shows many of his former supporters in the right-wing are unforgiving.
However, these same constituents would be wise to look at how much Labrador has voted against Boehner and leadership. He voted against the 2012 fiscal cliff deal. He did not vote for Boehner as speaker in 2013. On a host of smaller issues he has also proven to be a thorn in leadership’s side. Yet, at the same time, Labrador has maintained a foot in the door with leadership. His efforts to help pass the sequester bill in 2011 were cited by Boehner as “instrumental.” But until now Labrador has never gone out of his way to oppose his constituents until this vote. It suggests quite a few things.
Contrary to popular opinion that Labrador wants to run for constitutional statewide office his vote for Boehner suggests he wants to stay in DC. Unlike some members elected in 2010 Labrador may not want to be permanently marginalized. Sorry Facebook peeps, you are not an effective politician if your adherence to principle makes you irrelevant. Second, Labrador may be aiming to chair a major Committee or move into leadership sooner rather than later. Labrador is unlikely to completely abandon his Tea Party roots but to get into leadership he will have to take some votes that will diverge from his constituents desire for ideological purity. Labrador even went down the ideological purity route. After Eric Cantor lost his primary in 2014 and his Majority Leader spot opened up Labrador ran. He lost to establishment pick Kevin McCarthy (CA) yet was graceful in the loss. His reason for running. To give his colleagues an alternative. His handling of the loss only elevated his status among all wings of the party.
Not that it matters to his constituents who are screaming about betrayal. Purity trumps attaining the power to effect change. Likely Labrador learned from Simpson who has maintained a conservative record but adhered to leadership’s wishes. As a result Simpson has several cushy leadership positions and has been able to slash the EPA budget (minus emergency funding for fires). Labrador will never be a Simpson but he appears tired of living with the prospect of never moving up the Congressional leader. Even if it means he never gets elected to constitutional statewide office anytime soon.