Four months before Pam Lowe was fired as director of the Idaho Transportation Department, then-sophomore state Rep. Raul Labrador helped defeat a bill raising fuel taxes by saying the only people he heard from in support of the hike were those with an financial stake in construction work.
Lowe, whose wrongful termination lawsuit cost the state $1.3 million, said she was a victim of gender discrimination and targeted for trying to scale back a construction-management contract benefiting Washington Group (now URS) and CH2M Hill. Those companies had contributed at least $22,000 to Gov. Butch Otter, whose transportation board fired Lowe in July 2009.
After the state and Lowe settled last month, Lowe told my colleague, Cynthia Sewell, that the $50 million contract has since morphed into $100 million for work ITD could have handled in-house.
Labrador won an upset victory in the 2010 GOP congressional primary over Vaughn Ward, who was strongly supported by GOP congressional leaders. Labrador now is seeking re-election against Democrat Jimmy Farris. I was on vacation when details of the Lowe settlement were announced last month, but figured it was worth reminding readers that Labrador shared her skepticism about industry influence.
During debate on Otter's 7-cent fuel increase bill on March 20, 2009, Labrador said the hundreds of emails he received about the fuel tax hike fell into two categories. The first came from those with a direct interest in spending more tax dollars on roads: owners and employees of construction companies, paving contractors, engineering outfits and the like.
The second group was "the rest of our constituents," Labrador told the House, people struggling to make ends meet and hostile to a tax increase. "They don't know what the future will bring."
The bill failed, 43-27.
Three days before that debate, Ward announced that Otter's wife, Lori, would co-chair "Republican Women for Ward." Labrador and Gov. Otter had a chilly relationship, but both have said they mended fences after Labrador became the party's nominee. Still, Labrador is considered a possible candidate for governor in 2014, when Otter could be seeking a third term or perhaps supporting Lt. Gov. Brad Little. Otter appointed Little lieutenant governor in 2009.
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