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Eye On Boise

Piotrowski profiled, discusses challenge to Labrador; Labrador defends vote against military budget in ‘14

James Piotrowski, the Democratic challenger to Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, was profiled in the Idaho Statesman yesterday, and featured in the “Citizen” feature of the Boise Weekly today. Both noted the Boise attorney’s court fight on behalf of seriously disabled Idahoans whose level of care was sharply cut by the state Department of Health & Welfare in a change to Medicaid reimbursement levels.

Piotrowski told me in a recent interview that he pressed the case, challenging the reimbursement rate for residential habilitation services, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and though he lost there, in the end he won, as the higher reimbursement rate is now back in place.

Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker writes that Piotrowski’s appeal in the case succeeded in 2010, but then the Legislature changed the law, and the state Department of Health & Welfare sought to cut the payments under Idaho’s Medicaid program again in 2011. He partnered with the ACLU and sued the state, and after a long and complex legal fight, a March settlement assured 3,600 disabled Idahoans’ right to the level of care they had been receiving.

Piotrowski told Barker that he was driven not just to help the families involved, but by the Constitution. “I have to go make arguments about what the Constitution means in court to other people who are highly educated about the topic. I feel really strongly that the Constitution needs to be enforced on a regular basis, and that’s exactly what I do.”

When I interviewed Piotrowski earlier this month, he described himself to me as a “strong constitutionalist.”

But he said the main reason he got into the race against Labrador was the public lands issue, which he called “so important here in Idaho,” saying, “I’m in this race because I’m an outdoorsman.” A longtime volunteer with Trout Unlimited, Piotrowski is concerned about the prospect of Idaho’s extensive public lands being transferred to the state or privatized. “I’m hoping that Idahoans will realize just how important that heritage of open, accessible public lands is,” he said.

Piotrowski also decried what he sees as “obstructionist tactics” by politicians like Labrador in Congress. “I’ve been up and down this district for the last 20 years in the work that I do, and I know that people are hurting,” he said. “The obstructionist tactics are slowing down relief that regular Idahoans really need, and they need it now.”

Piotrowski was highly critical of Labrador’s 2014 vote against the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 2015. The budget bill included the appropriations to fund active-duty and reserve personnel in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, along with National Guard personnel; and the appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The April 30, 2014 vote on passage in the House was 416-1, according to congressional records, with just Labrador dissenting.

Piotrowski told the Boise Weekly, “Think of that for a moment. A vote like that demonstrates an extreme level of arrogance. The very idea of voting against our troops.”

Asked about that vote, Labrador’s office today released this statement: "Congressman Labrador promised Idahoans he would cut spending.  In December 2013, Congress passed the Ryan-Murray budget deal over the congressman's objections, gutting sequestration and raising spending by $64 billion dollars.  Because of that, the congressman opposed every appropriations bill that raised spending over the previous year, keeping his promise to Idahoans.  Furthermore, the Veterans Administration has continually failed our veterans with long waits and bureaucratic red tape that hurts our veterans.  Spending more money on a failed system has never fixed anything.  That's why the congressman has supported legislation to reform the VA and prioritized helping our constituents in Idaho, especially veterans, to help take care of them.  Since being elected in 2010, the congressman has helped thousands of Idaho's veterans secure benefits and get the medical care they deserve and has always prioritized supporting the individual, not the bureaucracy."

The Boise Weekly’s Q-and-A with Piotrowski is online here; the Statesman article is online here.

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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