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News >  ID Government

Incumbent Lawrence Wasden faces accidental candidate Bruce Bistline in Idaho AG race

Democrat Bruce Bistline, left, is challenging GOP Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s re-election bid in the November 2018 election. (Idaho Press (for Bistline photo))
Democrat Bruce Bistline, left, is challenging GOP Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s re-election bid in the November 2018 election. (Idaho Press (for Bistline photo))
By Betsy Z. Russell Idaho Press

Boise attorney and Democrat Bruce Bistline filed to run against GOP Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden four years ago just in case Wasden lost the primary, then didn’t actively campaign once Wasden had defeated primary rival Christ Troupis.

This year, he’s doing it again.

“I didn’t want to wait till the last minute to find out that there had been a primary,” Bistline said. “I felt it was really important to have someone else on the ticket in case there was a primary at the last minute, somebody filed.”

This time, no one did. Bistline said he doesn’t plan to actively campaign, but he’s not sorry he’s on the ballot. “I believe that it would be good for the state to have a turnover in power,” he said. “I think it would help balance things out a bit. I think we’re in a state of imbalance right now.”

Wasden is Idaho’s longest-serving attorney general; he’s seeking an unprecedented fifth term. He said his priorities if re-elected will be “the same things that I have been working on in the past: firm and fair criminal prosecution, which I think is an important issue; protecting Idaho’s water and sovereignty; protecting Idaho’s consumers and businesses from fraud; obtaining the maximum long-term financial return (from the state endowment) for Idaho’s schoolchildren and other beneficiaries; and ensuring justice for all Idahoans.”

Wasden has clashed on occasion with the state Legislature, when it didn’t like the legal opinions his office has handed down; he’s also ruffled feathers among his own party by prosecuting Republican local government officials for corruption. He even sued the state Land Board, on which he serves, in 2010, winning at the Idaho Supreme Court in his bid to enforce constitutional requirements for endowment land returns.

“I’ve been able to, I think, call things fair and square,” Wasden said. “Some people wish that I would call things in a different way, but the answer is that when I’m calling balls and strikes, you want the umpire to be fair. And that’s precisely what I’ve done. And I think in the long run, that serves the people of the state the best, that you call it fair and square.”

Both Wasden, 60, and Bistline, 67, are graduates of the University of Idaho School of Law. Wasden earned his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University; Bistline from Colorado College.

Bistline, when he announced his run, called for upholding the 1995 Batt Agreement on nuclear waste at the Idaho National Laboratory. Wasden said, “I have been the one who has consistently upheld the terms of the ’95 agreement.”

Bistline conceded, “Wasden’s doing the right thing there.” He said, “He needs support from both sides of the aisle, so I was just using my platform there.”

Bistline, whose name rhymes with riced-line, also is calling for creation of a nonpartisan Office of Inspector General; joining a class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers; and expanding the state’s Consumer Protection Act to cover what he said are abuses by mobile home park owners.

Wasden has won numerous awards during his service as attorney general, including the Courage in Public Service Award from the Conference of Western Attorneys General and a fellowship from the Aspen Institute honoring public leaders identified as “the true rising stars” of American politics.

He’s pressed numerous public corruption cases – handling 71 complaints in 2016 alone; established the Internet Crimes Against Children task force to investigate and prosecute internet sexual predators, which conducted 364 investigations last year; and recovered millions in consumer protection cases involving Idaho consumers and businesses.

“I have a responsibility to protect Idaho consumers and businesses from fraud,” Wasden said.

He also joined other state attorneys general to sue the Obama administration over the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule, which sought to expand federal jurisdiction over waters and wetlands, winning a nationwide stay in federal court.

And Wasden has traveled the state since 2004 to educate local government officials, the media and the public about complying with the state’s public records and open meetings laws. “I do think an open government is really a critical element,” he said. “Democracy depends on an informed public who participates in the process.”

Bistline is a distant relative – second cousin, once removed – of the late Idaho Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bistline, whose 18 years on the state’s highest court were marked by numerous dissents and who was dubbed the court’s “conscience and resident civil libertarian” by the Associated Press at his retirement in 1994.

Bistline said his philosophy isn’t far removed from his more famous relative; he lobbied for the American Civil Liberties Union at the Idaho Legislature and says he may do so again in the future.

Bistline has practiced law in Pocatello and Boise on and off for 40 years, but at one point, he said, “I got my heart broken by one of my cases, quit practicing law for a while. Sold rocks in a rock shop in Sedona.”

The case was that of Don Paradis, who was convicted of murder and spent more than 20 years in prison — including 14 years on death row — only to later have his conviction overturned on appeal; he was released in 2001. “It took me a long time to get over the belief or the fear that I had not been good enough,” Bistline said.

He later returned to practicing law in Boise, and has worked on major class action litigation.

Wasden has worked for the Idaho attorney general’s office for nearly three decades, starting in 1989 as a deputy attorney general assigned to the state Tax Commission. He’s also a former deputy prosecuting attorney in Canyon County and prosecuting attorney in Owyhee County; he lives in Nampa.

Wasden was recruited to run for Congress or governor this year, but declined, choosing instead to run for another term as attorney general. He said, “I believe that I have something still to contribute.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state Capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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