BOISE, Idaho — Nearly 50 longtime Idaho Republicans, including a former governor and dozens of other past and current officeholders, on Tuesday endorsed the Democratic candidate for attorney general in November’s election.
Republicans attended a news conference at the Statehouse with Boise attorney Tom Arkoosh, who has said he has no political ambitions other than to run the office fairly.
“Tom Arkoosh is the first candidate on the Democratic ticket I have supported in my 66 years of work with the Republican Party," said Republican Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, the powerful chairwoman of the Senate's State Affairs Committee who is retiring this year.
The three other current officeholders endorsing Arkoosh are also leaving office this year, either through retirement or primary losses. But the list of Arkoosh supporters includes many well-known Republicans.
“I want to thank my Republican friends for looking at me as a candidate, and not as a party politician," Arkoosh said, adding he would like the endorsements to start a wider conversation about what voters want in the deeply conservative state that hasn't sent a Democrat to the attorney general's office since 1991.
“When that conversation happens, we will move away from extremism,” he said. “We will become Idahoans altogether again.”
Arkoosh announced his candidacy in July after former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador defeated five-term incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the Republican primary in May.
Arkoosh and the Republicans supporting him say Labrador will turn the office into a partisan base to further his own political ambitions. Wasden is well known for a strategy he describes as even-handedly calling balls and strikes on legal matters, frequently irking fellow Republicans in ruby red Idaho.
Labrador, who ran for governor four years ago but lost to current Gov. Brad Little in the Republican primary, has said voters are looking for an aggressive, conservative attorney general. He has said he wouldn’t put politics above the law and would work with lawmakers to draft bills that would survive court challenges.
Labrador in a statement to The Associated Press called the Republicans endorsing Arkoosh “backroom insiders.” He noted his primary win earlier this year and said he’s been gaining supporters ever sense.
“I am running to represent the people of Idaho by protecting their freedom, our state’s sovereignty, and our shared Idaho values,” he said.
Arkoosh said he spent years as an independent but registered as a Republican to vote in the May primary. He switched to the Democratic party to run for attorney general, saying he was concerned Labrador would run the office as a shameless political opportunist if elected. Arkoosh has said he would make decisions as required by law and what is best for the state.
Among those supporting Arkoosh are former Gov. Phil Batt, former Attorney General and Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones and former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.
“Being a life-long Republican, it’s hard to endorse a Democratic candidate," Ysursa said. “But Tom Arkoosh is clearly the better candidate. He’s known as a competent, ethical and highly experienced attorney who strongly believes in the rule of law.”
Former first Lady Lori Otter, wife of former Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, is also endorsing Arkoosh.
“We don’t hire our personal lawyer to give us political advice, but to make sure we operate lawfully and stay out of legal trouble," she said. "That’s what Tom Arkoosh had pledged to do for the State of Idaho.”
Lawmakers in the past have ignored Wasden's warnings about passing unconstitutional legislation. As a result, the state has paid millions in attorney fees to the winning side in lost court cases.
Most recently, in August, Idaho officials agreed to pay $321,000 in legal fees after lawmakers in 2020 made it more difficult for transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates despite a U.S. court ruling banning such obstacles. The state previously paid $75,000 after losing the initial case in 2018.
Among the Republicans endorsing Arkoosh on Tuesday are state Reps. Fred Wood and Scott Syme, state Sen. Fred Martin, former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, former Cassia County Sheriff Jay Heward, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jerry Evans and former Idaho State Treasurer Lydia Justice Edwards.
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