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Labrador fields questions along with cheers, boos at lively town-hall meeting

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador fields questions - along with cheers and boos - at a raucous town hall meeting in Meridian, Idaho, on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador fields questions - along with cheers and boos - at a raucous town hall meeting in Meridian, Idaho, on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell)

1st District Rep. Raul Labrador told the crowd that he usually spends about 10 or 15 minutes on opening remarks, “but since we have so many people, I’m not going to do that.”

“It’s a great honor - I’ve been representing the 1st District of Idaho now for seven years,” he said. “I really enjoy doing town-hall meetings. I enjoy meeting with the constituents, and I’ve been doing them consistently since I was first elected.” He said, “I don’t mind if you boo me or if you yell at me, that’s fine, that’s part of the process. But ask your question … and try not to scream at each other. ... If you agree or disagree with my answer , be equally respectful. I’m going to try to do the same thing.”

With that, he went straight to questions. People immediately lined up in the aisles behind the two microphones at the front to ask them.

The first question was from a teacher, who questioned why Labrador is co-sponsoring legislation to do away with the U.S. Department of Education. “What specific things ... do you disagree with and think need to be fixed, and if the Department of Education is terminated in 2018, what are you going to do as one of the people responible to ensure that Idaho’s elected leaders are held responsible to ensuring that every student in Idaho is given the constitutionally established right to education that is general, uniform and thorough, and free?”

Labrador called that a “great question.” He said, “I am the cosponsor of the bill that’s trying to get rid of the Department of Education. I’ve always thought that education should be at the state level, not at the federal level. We have over 4,000 bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. that are not educating our kids. I have five children. … Two of them are still in school. ... I’ve had wonderful teachers, wonderful educators who have been teaching my kids. ... I’m going to take all that money that we’re spending in the federal offices and send it to the states, so the state can actually use that more effectively, more efficiently.” He added, “I liked your question,” because she talked about holding local officials accountable “That’s your job and my job, especially as a parent, to make sure that the school boards are doing their job, that the local educators are doing their job. I just believe very firmly … that we can do better, a better job at the state level.”

That drew a big boo, and some cheers, and the woman asked, “Can I have a rebuttal?” Amid some hubbub, Labrador allowed it. She said she’s concerned about losing federal education funds. “I teach at a Title 1 school and I see how this money is used,” she said. “Our state legislature doesn’t fund education." That drew a roar from the crowd.

Labrador said, “As a father, I feel a tremendous responsibility to make sure that education is done well at the local level. .. I think part of the problem: High-level administration. Sometimes the money is not coming down to the good teachers that are doing good jobs, and that’s what I want.”

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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