Ada County’s two newest commissioners started their first open business meeting with a bang: They wanted to appoint a new board member to represent the county on the Central District Health board.
The role was previously held by former Commissioner Diana Lachiondo, who often argued for mask requirements in Ada and other counties. But Lachiondo, a Democrat, lost her re-election bid in November to Ryan Davidson, one of two Republicans who won and flipped the three-member commission back to conservative control.
So the board seat was open. And Davidson, sworn in Monday along with fellow Republican and newly elected Commission Chair Rod Beck, wanted to appoint Raúl Labrador, a former U.S. congressman and former state GOP chair.
Labrador is a lawyer who has been involved in Idaho politics for years. He was a member of the Legislature representing District 14, which includes Eagle and Star, for two terms. He then represented Idaho’s 1st Congressional District which covers western Idaho from Canada to Nevada, including all of Canyon County and the western part of Ada County for eight years in the U.S. House. Labrador was the chairman of the Idaho Republican Party from 2019 to 2020, when he resigned to start practicing law again.
He has called the use of masks “overrated,” a departure from Lachiondo who regularly advocated following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He came under fire last month after being photographed at a Boise mall while not wearing a mask. In an opinion piece published in the Statesman later that week, he wrote that “politicians and the media continue to exploit this crisis,” dividing the nation.
He also came under fire in 2017, when he said during a Lewiston town hall that “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”
Commissioner Kendra Kenyon, a Democrat and the only holdover from last year, said she didn’t think Labrador was unqualified but did think Davidson and Beck were rushing.
“Normally, we have at least a day or two to discuss these appointments,” she said.
She said she would vote “nay” and added that she wanted to see other applicants for the role.
“Myself and Commissioner Beck decided that perhaps we weren’t the perfect person to serve out (Lachiondo’s open) term,” Davidson said. “The code does basically give it seems an expedited process in this unique situation. But we were both approached by Mr. Labrador, and just based on his experience and with the sort of critical situation we’re in right now with the pandemic, I think that leans toward sort of expediting this appointment so that we can make sure we have somebody on the board as soon as possible.”
Kenyon said that while she appreciated that, she was worried that the other commissioners were having that conversation without her.
“I don’t think that it’s appropriate for the two of you to make decisions without it being in an open forum like this, and having a discussion and the fact that it’s already been teed up, to me, is a little worrisome,” she said.
Idaho’s Open Meeting Law dictates that a quorum of members of any governing body must meet publicly when deliberating on matters. Guidance from the attorney general’s office indicates that commissioners are allowed to talk to each other outside meetings, but they may not make decisions that are part of the public business.
Beck said he would have thought the past commissioners would have put out a request for volunteers. Kenyon said they were waiting for the new board to be sworn in.
They then gave Labrador, who was at the meeting, a chance to speak on why he was qualified. Labrador said that while he had experience in politics, law and business, it was his job as a father, husband and grandfather that qualified him more than anything else.
“I have watched over the last year as unelected officials have been making decisions that affect people’s lives in a most intimate way,” said Labrador, now an unelected official himself. “I have been watching how decisions that are supposed to be based on science become politicized, and I think the people of Ada County and the people of Idaho need somebody who has a little bit of common sense that understands the political implications and the scientific implications and more than anything, the personal implications.”
He said he had watched previous Central District Health board meetings and felt some voices were being shut out. He said his high school senior had been affected by COVID-19, and other family members have been sickened by the virus.
“I have seen how it affects people and I have seen how people have been treated during this time. I think that nothing qualifies me more than that,” he said.
After more debate, the commission ultimately voted to approve Labrador to the board. Beck and Davidson voted to appoint Labrador, while Kenyon abstained.
In his new role, Labrador will help to make health decisions not only for Ada County but also for Boise, Elmore and Valley counties. The appointment of another conservative voice could mean that the seven-member board, often split on key issues, will change the way it handles masks and other coronavirus health requirements.
The next meeting of the Central District Health board will be at 8:30 a.m. this Friday, Jan. 15.