BOISE - Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick has launched two new campaign commercials, one touting his work on veterans’ issues and the other criticizing GOP challenger Raul Labrador for his votes in the Idaho Legislature on domestic violence issues.
Labrador has no beef with the veterans’ ad, which highlights Minnick’s Army service and his work on legislation to expand benefits for veterans and their families. But he takes sharp issue with the domestic violence ad, which features the mother of Angie Leon, a young Nampa woman who was killed by her abusive husband in 2003.
Labrador said his votes on bills in 2007 and 2008 couldn’t have saved Leon’s life in 2003. “I think it’s a shameful ad, because it seems to imply that if we would have passed the legislation that he’s talking about, that this poor family would have been prevented the tragedy that fell upon them. … In a political season, I could never conceive of using a family’s tragedy for my political purposes.”
Minnick’s campaign defended the ad, saying Labrador has a “very troubling record on domestic violence issues.”
In the ad, Sylvia Flores, Angie Leon’s mother, says, “My daughter Angie tried to escape from an abusive relationship. But despite repeated court orders, Angie’s husband tracked her down and brutally murdered her. The Legislature has tried to protect other women, but Raul Labrador voted to keep battered women’s new addresses public, and weakened laws that were designed to punish abusers more severely. Nothing will bring back my Angie, but I hope that speaking out will prevent another tragedy like ours from ever happening again.”
Labrador doesn’t dispute that he opposed legislation in 2007 to make domestic violence victims’ addresses secret; HB 172 was killed in the House Judiciary Committee on a 7-9 vote, after Labrador questioned whether the state’s prosecuting attorneys had been consulted.
“I just had a concern when the prosecutor’s office was telling us that the original bill was not going to accomplish its intended purpose,” Labrdor said. “I want to make sure that we’re passing legislation that is actually protecting citizens.”
In 2008 a new version of the measure was proposed and it passed. Labrador missed the vote in the full House, and didn’t recall whether he backed the 2008 version.
The other legislation referenced in the commercial is HB 540 and 541 in 2008, both of which were proposed by the state prosecuting attorneys’ association to add greater penalties for those who repeatedly violate no-contact orders or protection orders. As written, the measures would have imposed an enhanced misdemeanor penalty for a second violation within 10 years, and a felony for a third violation within 15 years.
When several House Judiciary Committee members objected to the bills, a supporter of them, Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, proposed amending them to drop the time period to five and 10 years, rather than 10 and 15. Labrador proposed killing HB 540 and amending HB 541 to create a felony for a third violation in five years. Another committee member, Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, proposed killing both bills. Luker’s motion failed by one vote; Labrador opposed it.
His proposal then passed, and he became the sponsor of the newly amended bill, which passed both houses unanimously and became law.
Labrador said he was concerned about the original measure, “Because violations of no-contact orders most often do not deal with violence. … Obviously if there’s violence involved, we have other crimes that already protect those victims.” He said, “If a person can be incarcerated for, for example, calling people twice … and if it happens three times they become a felon, those are costs to society that we need to weigh. That’s why we found a compromise.”
Labrador noted that he had nothing to do with the Leon case, which received widespread attention in Canyon County and statewide after the murder. Abel Leon had been released from prison pending sentencing on a felony charge, even though he had numerous outstanding warrants and protection order violations, when he attacked and killed his wife.
“The system failed this family,” Labrador said. “It wasn’t the lack of laws, it was the lack of enforcement of the laws that caused the death of this beautiful young woman.”
Minnick’s campaign stood by ad. “The whole point of the bills to change the laws on no-contact orders was to prevent women from having to worry that violence would be the end result of these repeated violations,” said Minnick’s campaign spokesman, John Foster, “and to give prosecutors the option to go after people who were essentially stalking women, before they became violent. So it begs the question of whether Raul’s on the side of the victims or on the side of the abusers.”
Steve Shaw, political scientist at Northwest Nazarene University, said neither of Minnick’s new ads is as troubling as his previous ads attacking Labrador on immigration; Labrador is an immigration attorney. “Here is a major issue, domestic violence,” Shaw said. “That’s a legitimate issue I think Minnick can raise, given that Labrador has said, ‘Look at how I’ve behaved as a state legislator, I’ll continue the same way as a member of Congress.’”