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Candidates for Idaho attorney general discuss abortion ban

Oct. 3, 2022 Updated Tue., Oct. 4, 2022 at 8:30 p.m.

By Ryan Suppe Idaho Statesman

Candidates for Idaho attorney general on Monday debated the role of the office, one arguing the state’s top attorney should be an aggressive litigator, the other advocating for a mediator between lawmakers who can deter costly lawsuits.

The two November general election candidates – Republican Raúl Labrador and Democrat Tom Arkoosh – debated who would be best suited for the position on Idaho Public Television.

“The attorney general’s office deserves a strong, aggressive, conservative attorney general that understands that the people of Idaho need somebody who will defend their rights, their freedoms and their liberties,” said Labrador, a former congressman and state lawmaker. “The greatest fights for the future of our nation, for the future of our country are happening in the courts.”

Labrador is an immigration lawyer from Nampa and board member for Central District Health, who previously served eight years in the U.S. House. The former chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, Labrador easily defeated incumbent Lawrence Wasden, Idaho’s longest-serving attorney general, in the GOP primary election.

Arkoosh, a former independent who’s running as a Democrat, is a political newcomer who runs a private practice law office in Boise. Arkoosh has been backed by a bipartisan group of former public officials, including Republican attorneys general.

Labrador “promises to fight for freedoms – what freedoms might those be?” Arkoosh said. “It’s the freedom to deny women health and arrest their doctors. It’s the freedom to defund our schools. It’s the freedom to ban our books and bring down our libraries.”

Candidates debate abortion

The attorney general is the state’s top attorney who represents Idaho agencies, its constitutional officers – such as the governor and lieutenant governor – and the Legislature.

Arkoosh said he would avoid costly, frivolous lawsuits by having “discussions” with lawmakers. The Legislature in recent years has racked up millions in legal fees defending its laws, including abortion restrictions that drew multiple court challenges from Planned Parenthood and the federal government.

“We will come to the middle and talk it through before we get to the extreme of litigation,” Arkoosh said. “This state has too quickly gone to litigation, and it’s costing us a lot of money.”

Labrador criticized Arkoosh for previously commenting that he would not defend a 2020 law criminalizing abortion.

“He’s already lost the trust of the Legislature, because … he’s already indicated to the Legislature that he’s going to put his political position ahead of the positions of the people of Idaho,” Labrador said. “I may even disagree with the Legislature in some cases, but my job is to give them the best legal advice possible and to help them draft their legislation in a way that I can defend in the courts.”

Labrador doubles down

on 2020 election

Before the primary election, Labrador consistently condemned Wasden’s refusal to launch, or join, lawsuits concerning national political issues. That included a Texas lawsuit that attempted to reverse presidential election results in swing states that voted for Joe Biden.

Arkoosh on Monday brought up recent reporting that Labrador wouldn’t have certified electors Jan. 6 as a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol attempting to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory over former President Donald Trump.

On Jan. 6, Labrador sent a text message to Trump’s then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, in which Labrador said he “would probably object to the certification today,” CNN reported in June. Labrador urged Meadows to “get Trump to say something to calm down the people.”

On Monday, Labrador said the 2020 election was “stolen in plain sight.”

Arkoosh defended Wasden, who declined to join Texas’s lawsuit. Arkoosh also said Wasden’s office did an “excellent” job handling water rights conflicts and lauded its consumer protection divisions as one of the best in the country.

Labrador criticizes

Arkoosh’s supporters

Meanwhile, Labrador took aim at Arkoosh’s backers, which include former Idaho Supreme Court Justice and Attorney General Jim Jones and former Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

Labrador accused Arkoosh of caving to the federal government, instead of defending Idaho law. This summer the U.S. Department of Justice won an injunction to block a portion of Idaho’s abortion ban that conflicted with federal law. Idaho’s law potentially forced emergency providers to deny treatment to women with life-threatening pregnancies.

“(Arkoosh) seems to only be doing the talking points that Jim Jones and other people have given to him,” Labrador said.

To close, Arkoosh explained he has relationships with people on both sides of the political aisle, and learned from them to find consensus – a lesson he would bring along to the attorney general’s office.

Labrador said Idahoans want an attorney general who won’t “let the Biden administration run right over the state.”

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