It's not too often that a non-government function pulls together almost the entire Idaho Republican Party. But that was the scene last night at the Nampa Civic Center for the second annual Idaho Freedom Foundation banquet and awards ceremony. A who's who of elected officials—from Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna to U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and a gaggle of state legislators—gathered to raise money for and cheer on the Freedom Foundation's right-wing free-market-embracing and legislative-driving mission.
"Last year, we had 160 people sign up," said Steve Owen, Idaho Freedom Foundation event coordinator. "This year, we have 380, and it's just our second year."
A little less than a year ago, when then-Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele ventured to Sun Valley on a fundraising trip, the turnout was far smaller and less enthusiastic. Few elected officials joined Steele for the event. Eleven months later, the Idaho GOP looked more cohesive and empowered.
Last night, Labrador appeared comfortable back on his home turf following his first five months in the nation's capital. In a speech that mostly repeated his vows to uphold the limited-government and low-taxes platform that he ran on last November, Labrador offered few surprises. He saved his strongest language for an anecdote regarding a trip he took to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan, where he said he grilled a government agency on its progress.
"I said, 'Tell me, how are you spending your money.' Their answer was, 'We don't know. We don't know how many programs we have started or completed,'" Labrador remembered being told.
The congressional freshman said his Afghanistan trip was more proof of a mindless fiscal policy.
"I was ashamed of the work they were doing," he said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Labrador's spokesman, Phil Hardy, clarified that the congressman was referring to USAID (United States Agency for International Development), not the U.S. military.
"He is in no way criticizing the military," Hardy said. "He has never criticized the work of our men and women in uniform. He is incensed by the waste, fraud and mismanagement of US taxpayers money."
Read all about the event in next Wednesday's BW.