BOISE, Idaho — U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador questioned his Democratic challenger’s readiness to be in Congress as well as his ability to read, while first-time candidate James Piotrowski responded that the Idaho congressman had failed to live up to his promises during the their first and only debate Monday.
Piotrowski spent most of his time criticizing Labrador’s voting record, promising that he would eliminate inefficient and unnecessary federal programs,while being willing to make compromises inside Congress.
“We should be looking forward to the next four years where the word compromise is not a dirty word,” said Piotrowski, 48, a Boise attorney.
Labrador, a tea party favorite, countered that Piotrowski didn’t understand how Congress worked and renewed promises to continue reducing the federal debt. Furthermore, Labrador praised gridlock in Congress, explaining that he believed the founding fathers divided government into different branches to slow government down.
“Everything should be on the table, I think I have been pretty bipartisan about this,” Labrador said. “The problem with Congress is that they’re willing to increase taxes now and promise to decrease spending later.”
Monday’s hour-long debate was hosted by KTVB-TV in Boise. The two candidates are not scheduled to face off in any future one-on-one debates after their first scheduled TV appearance was canceled earlier this year when Piotrowski failed to turn in the proper paperwork.
The debate briefly touched on the presidential candidates at the start; with Labrador explaining that Donald Trump was not his “fifth or sixth” choice but stood by that he would continue to support the Republican nominee because of the impact that would have on the currently open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Piotrowski was not asked if he supported Hillary Clinton and never brought up the Democratic nominee’s name.
The debate came to a near boiling point as the candidates argued over Labrador’s First Amendment Defense Act, which would prohibit the federal government from taking action against an institution that opposes same-sex marriage by revoking a tax-exemption or barring them from receiving grants or contracts.
Piowstrowski called the bill a solution in search of a problem, saying that federal protections are already in place to protect religious freedoms for private citizens.
When Labrador responded that Piotrowski either didn’t understand the bill or didn’t know how to read.
“Excuse me, sir. Did you just ask me if I didn’t know how to read?” Piotrowski heatedly asked.
Later Piotrowski accused Labrador of representing the billionaire class when clashing over Labrador’s proposed legislation for state and local management of certain sections of federal lands.
“Oh please,” Labrador responded, countering that his bill would not lead to transferring of public lands to private ownership.
When pressed by moderator Jim Weatherby, a Boise political analyst, Labrador did not rule out running for Idaho governor in 2018. Instead, he said he would consider that decision after the Nov. 8 election. Labrador, who also served in the Idaho House before running for Congress, has long been rumored as a possible candidate to replace Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.