A House rematch in Idaho
Rep. Chenoweth works to fend off a Democratic challenger -- again
By Bruce Morton/CNN
BOISE, Idaho (October 29) -- Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth says she wants just one more term. But an admission of an affair could prove costly to the Idaho conservative's chances for re-election.
At Boise's Capitol High School, Democratic challenger Dan Williams is talking with students about political labels: liberal, conservative and so on.
"This is me," Williams says, pointing to "moderate," which is what a Democrat needs to be in this very Republican state.
"I, obviously here in Idaho, need a lot of Republican votes, need a lot of independent voters," Williams says. "There aren't enough Democratic voters."
Williams is running, in a rematch, against Chenoweth, a take-no-prisoners conservative who brags about shutting down the federal government in 1995.
"We finally worked with the president," Chenoweth says. "We had to get his attention by shutting the government down three times and finally he signed the balanced budget bill."
Idaho is booming, with lots of high-tech industries in the Boise area and a growing population. But people in the state also worry about older industries -- logging and agriculture -- and about keeping their wilderness and recreational land.
"The race is a lot about the federal government, I guess," says John Freemuth of Boise State University. "Anti-federal presence, those kinds of things. Federal land policy, quite a bit, returning power to the states."
The federal government owns almost two-thirds of the land in Idaho. Chenoweth says it's badly managed.
"By not utilizing our forests properly, we have lost a lot of jobs, communities have been uprooted, but most importantly, we're losing wildlife habitat," she says. "We are losing a resource."
She would like the state to own more of the land; Williams says that will lead to land sales and private ownership. They clashed at a debate.
"Mr. Williams, we can go as far back as the Magna Carta, but you will never once, ever, be able to find a scintilla of evidence where I have ever said that I would like to sell our public lands to the highest bidder," Chenoweth told her challenger.
But Williams shot back. "You lobbied for three specific proposals within the state of Idaho, and one of them provided itself for the sale of the lands that the state would then get from the federal government," he said. "You can't run away from 20 years of history. I know it's inconvenient now. I know that it's causing you problems."
There's the same split on other issues. Chenoweth would abolish the federal Department of Education.
"Since we've had a federal Department of Education, we have seen education scores decline tremendously," Chenoweth says.
Williams sees a federal role in education.
"My point is not that we want federal bureaucrats on the banks of the Potomac setting education policy," Williams said. "My point is that out of all the federal money the federal government taxes from us and spends on different things, we ought to grab more of that and spend it on something that make sense, like public schools."
They agree on some things. Both are against gun control laws and against making hate crimes a federal offense. And there is one other issue. Chenoweth ran an ad criticizing President Bill Clinton's character.
"Bill Clinton's behavior has severely rocked this nation and damaged the office of the president," her ad said. "I believe that personal conduct and integrity does matter. Where do you stand, Dan?"
But then Chenoweth had to acknowledge that she, then single, had a five-year affair with a married man in the 1980s, something a lot of political insiders here knew.
"When Chenoweth had her own issues surface, it seemed it was kind of a 'gotcha' in terms of the ads and things, but I don't hear a lot of Idahoans talking that much about it," Freemuth says.
Williams, who does not raise the issue in his speeches, agrees. But he also says, "The hypocrisy does bother me of someone who launches a political attack based on personal morality when their own past does not justify that attack."
But Chenoweth says, "Because a person has made a mistake in the past should never preclude them from advocating for those values that really did build this country."
Although Idaho is a Republican state, the 1st congressional district is competitive. Two years ago Chenoweth beat Williams by just 6,500 votes and it looks close again. Turnout, getting your voters to the polls, could decide it.
The League of Conservation Voters, which opposes Chenoweth, has organized a phone bank to get out the vote. The group abandoned a planned ad campaign.
"A lot of the voters were already committed; they were either for Chenoweth or against her, and it was going to be more effective for us to try and turn out those voters who we know are going to vote against her," said Mike Medberry of the League of Conservation Voters.
Chenoweth and Williams are very different people. Chenoweth says this will be her last term, if she wins.
"We just take the fastballs as they come," she says. "They're not always pleasant, but that's part of what goes with the territory sometimes."
Williams says he believes "in trying to build a consensus, bring people together, be more of a bridge builder, and I think Chenoweth is more like a cheerleader for one faction or one extreme or the other."
It could be worse. The loser gets to live in Idaho, year round.
Thursday, October 29, 1998
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A House rematch in Idaho
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