BOISE – Controversial former U.S. Rep. 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 turned out to be 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 told supporters he was mulling a rematch with Minnick but had raised no campaign funds and done no campaigning. 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 campaign spokesman Ryan O’Barto issued a statement in response: “No decision in Congress will be tougher than the decisions Vaughn made in combat.”
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, which would make the immunization tracking system automatic unless parents opt out, rather than requiring them to opt in. 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 – would make participation in the registry mandatory, not voluntary, although the sponsors specifically told the committee that it wouldn’t.
Sali’s proposed amendments would remove a notification to parents that IRIS participation is voluntary and require extensive notifications to parents 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.”
The committee delayed a vote until Monday.