BOISE - Controversial former Idaho Congressman Bill Sali resurfaced in Idaho politics on Friday, testifying against child immunizations at a state House committee he once chaired and scheduling a Statehouse announcement on the final day of the candidate filing period - which then turned out to be just an endorsement for another candidate.
Sali, a conservative Republican, lost the 1st Congressional District seat to Democrat Walt Minnick two years ago after serving one term; before that, he was a longtime state lawmaker known for clashing with members of his own party.
Sali had been mulling a rematch with Minnick but had raised no campaign funds and done no campaigning; the 1st District GOP primary already is crowded. On Friday, he made his announcement: He’s endorsing GOP candidate Raul Labrador in the race. Sali cited Labrador’s two terms in the Legislature as good experience for Congress, and denigrated Republican Vaughn Ward, a decorated Iraq war veteran who’s also in the race, saying, “Sending Vaughn Ward to Washington, D.C. is a little bit like sending a boy scout to Iraq. He doesn’t have any experience casting tough votes.”
Ward’s campaign declined to comment on Sali’s put-down. “Idaho Republicans are ready for new leadership,” said Ward campaign spokesman Ryan O’Barto.
At the House Health and Welfare committee on Friday, Sali spoke out against child immunizations, saying, “I grew up in a time when childhood diseases were something you had as a child, and I had mumps and I had chicken pox and I had measles. I don’t spend any time worrying about whether I’m going to have those diseases. If a parent decides they want to have their child exposed and have that natural immunity that should never be held against them in any way.”
Idaho currently ranks 50th among the states and the District of Columbia, trailed only by Montana, in its child-immunization rates.
Sali spoke at a hearing on SB 1335, the IRIS immunization reminder system bill. He proposed sweeping amendments to the bill, which already passed the Senate on a 31-3 vote. He contended that the bill - backed by the Idaho Medical Association, the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force and an array of Idaho medical groups – actually would make participation in the registry mandatory, not voluntary, though the sponsors specifically told the committee that it wouldn’t. The bill makes the immunization tracking system automatic unless parents opt out, rather than requiring them to opt in.
Sali’s proposed amendments would remove a notification to parents that IRIS participation is voluntary; and require extensive notifications to parents at birth that they can decline immunizations “because immunizations would endanger the life or health of their child or on religious or other grounds.” His amendments also would add protections for parents who choose to “allow their child to gain immunity from any childhood disease by being exposed to and contracting the disease.”
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, moved to amend the bill as Sali proposed. The committee delayed a vote until Monday.
Reminiscent of his days in the Legislature, Sali was scolded by the committee chair at one point for arguing, rather than answering a committee member’s question.