In accountability pledge, Labrador invokes Idaho Education Network mess

When Rep. Raul Labrador unveiled his government accountability plan, he brought up an albatross from Gov. Butch Otter’s three terms in office: the Idaho Education Network debacle.

“I will not allow the government abuses that have become all too common to continue,” the Republican gubernatorial candidate said Wednesday, as he released his five-point accountability plan. “No longer will broadband contracts be awarded illegally …”

That is, of course, a reference to the Idaho Education Network, a project to link the state’s high schools through high-speed Internet. The $60 million project collapsed after a 2014 Ada County District Court ruling voiding the contract; the Idaho Supreme Court later upheld the district court ruling.

But in 2008, as a member of the Idaho House of Representatives, Labrador voted to create the Idaho Education Network. The bill passed both houses unanimously.

Asked about the 2008 vote, and the project’s demise, Labrador campaign manager China Veldhouse Gum issued the following statement:

“Rep. Raul Labrador supported extending broadband networks to Idaho’s schools when he was in the Idaho Legislature. Unfortunately, the ‘pay to play’ atmosphere we have in Boise resulted in a backroom deal to award a political donor. This illegal contract not only set Idaho’s schools back, it also hurt our kids educational opportunities, and cost taxpayers $40 million. Rep. Raul Labrador has a plan as governor to clean up cronyism in the statehouse and end sweetheart deals. His track record proves he’s the only candidate in this race who will do what he says he will do – clean up Boise.”

The cost of the Idaho Education Network contract collapse is open to interpretation — as I’ve written before, it depends on when you start tallying up the costs. The Associated Press has used the $40 million figure.

But there is no debating one point. In 2008, before their vote, legislators were told the broadband system would not cost a dime in general fund dollars. That didn’t pan out.

More reading: Go to our elections page for candidate interviews and other campaign news.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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