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Labrador, Piotrowski clash in testy televised debate

Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador faces Democrat James Piotrowski in the November election.
Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador faces Democrat James Piotrowski in the November election.

BOISE – In a testy debate Monday night, Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador clashed repeatedly with his Democratic challenger, James Piotrowski, over everything from public lands to congressional gridlock.

“I think we need to remember that gridlock is a part of Congress,” Labrador said, after Piotrowski criticized him for being “part of that obstruction” and one who “revels” in it. “It’s not like the last six years is the first time that we’ve had gridlock in Washington, D.C.,” Labrador said. “In fact, gridlock has always existed in Washington, D.C. Our founding fathers wanted there to be gridlock. That’s why we have three branches of government.”

But when it happens, Labrador said, “You’re supposed to bring coalitions together and you’re supposed to bring people together, and I did that in Washington, D.C., and here in Idaho.” He cited the bill he helped craft regarding the Puerto Rico financial crisis, noting that it passed with bipartisan support.

“People like James, when they talk about compromise, what they really talk about is more spending,” Labrador said.

Piotrowski, who like Labrador is an attorney, sharply disagreed. “In fact, I’m a better fiscal conservative than Mr. Labrador is,” he said, “because I actually believe in getting a job done.” He criticized Labrador for voting against basic funding bills in Congress, including the Veterans Affairs budget, saying, “What Mr. Labrador has done for six years is to cast symbolic votes.”

Labrador said he voted against every funding bill this year because all were part of a budget plan that increased spending, after five years of reducing deficits. “I think he needs to be really careful, not twisting words and not twisting truth,” Labrador said of his opponent.

It was the only debate currently scheduled between the two; the matchup aired on KTVB-TV in Boise and online, and will be re-aired several times in the coming weeks.

Piotrowski accused Labrador of “simply strengthening his own caucus, his Freedom Caucus, simply creating more divisiveness and problems in the federal government.”

Labrador had his own barbs to aim at Piotrowski as well, citing a tweet that he said showed Piotrowski isn’t the centrist he claims, and accusing him of actually being from Boise’s liberal North End, which is in the 2nd Congressional District, not the first. Piotrowski did live in the North End before he moved to Eagle this year; he purchased his Eagle home over the summer. That’s the same 2nd District town where Labrador lives.

The two clashed repeatedly over Labrador’s proposed legislation for pilot projects in state and local management of parcels of federal lands; Piotrowski said it would lead to transferring ownership and barring public access, and Labrador responded sharply, “I’m going to call it a lie – my bill doesn’t do anything to transfer lands.”

Piotrowski said, “I didn’t say it. I said that was your end result. You’re in Congress to serve the billionaire class, sir.” Labrador responded, “Oh, please.”

Labrador was asked by co-moderator Jim Weatherby if he plans to run for governor in 2018, as is widely rumored, and if so, how he can assure Idahoans that he’ll be a full-time member of Congress. “I have not made a decision about running for governor,” Labrador responded. “I’m going to decide after this election.”

But, he said, “I will do the work that we need to do. I still want to work on criminal justice reform. I still want to work on immigration reform. And those are issues that I will finish before I leave Washington, D.C.”

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