James Piotrowski understands the upset he'll have to achieve to unseat Raul Labrador, the GOP congressman seeking a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, Piotrowski also believes the timing couldn't be better for a change.
Labrador turned down our request for an interview to discuss the issues before voters this November, but Piotrowski, a 49-year-old Boise attorney who argued on behalf of developmentally delayed adults before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014, was happy to sit down and stake his claim as a more moderate voice in Idaho's congressional delegation.
Have you always been a Democrat?
Always. The most important political issue of our age is the advancement of an individual's civil rights. It's what differentiates the modern era from every other era of human history. In my opinion, the Democratic Party is more to advance individual rights than any other party.
Your party is a pretty big tent. What kind of Democrat are you?
The kind that wants people to have a fighting chance to get a good job and see their kids in a properly funded education system. My time is spent in dealing with run-of-the-mill needs of everyday people who need help. They're not looking for a check or handout. They need help in finding the basic dignity that we all aspire to, and there's a role for government to make that happen.
Are you advocating Idaho's congressional delegation not be politically red or blue but purple?
I chose this race very carefully. It's because Raul Labrador is the member of our congressional delegation that desperately needs to be replaced. By getting rid of him, we can do a lot better for the people of Idaho.
Have you determined where your opponent is most vulnerable?
Raul Labrador is the only member of the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against a bill to fund veterans' services [2014's HR 4486]. Think of that for a moment. A vote like that demonstrates an extreme level of arrogance. The very idea of voting against our troops. That should have gotten a lot more attention than it did. And then there's the proposal to transfer public lands to the state—that's a Tea Party issue. Labrador claims it was brought to him by county commissioners; I promise you, the issue was not brought to him by the voters of Idaho. Then there was Labrador's vote against the Secure Rural Schools Act [2015's SB 517]. He was the only Idaho congressman to vote against it. Congressman [Mike] Simpson worked hard on that bill and for Labrador to vote against it was not in line with voters.
Can I assume for an Idaho congressional campaign that includes television advertising, you're going to need $300,000 to $500,000?
Our target is to come within that range. I did some digging, looking at previous election cycles across the country, and there were newly-elected members to the U.S. House of Representatives that were able to unseat an incumbent for around $500,000.
How might the Clinton vs. Trump presidential contest impact your down-ticket race?
That's a pretty big unanswered question. I suspect my opponent should be more worried about a negative coattail effect from Mr. Trump.
That said, the Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns revealed a pretty significant political headline this year: the growing number of disenfranchised voters.
But we're seeing some of that demographic favoring a Democratic candidate. We're going to try to make that work for us.
Was there a particular event or series of events that drove your decision to run for office? You're a political newcomer.
It was the public lands debate. This year, we saw an unprecedented number of state bills advocating for a transfer of public lands to states. They were deadly serious about it. This wasn't politics as usual, but a genuine threat to what makes Idaho so special. When I realized that Raul Labrador and his followers were serious about that transfer, I had to get involved. It's not the only issue I'm passionate about, but it's near the top of the list.