Bruce Reed, former domesticc policy advisor to President Clinton and current president of the Democratic Leadership Council, has a great article up over at Slate regarding, of all things, the changing leadership in Idaho's 1st CD. To quote Mr. Reed, the 1st CD "has lost its claim as the nuttiest House seat in the country" with the recent election of Walt Minnick.
Historically, Idaho has sent a wide array of personalities to the United States House of Representatives from the 1st CD. For every "nutty" legislator like Bill Sali or Helen Chenoweth, there have been strong, effective leaders like Larry LaRocco, Gracie Pfost and Comp White. Where Idaho voters have been faulted in the past for their erroneous election of convicted-felon George Hansen, they are certainly being credited now for their vote to send a real representative to Washington, D.C.
Like what has been written previously on the demeanor and personality of Sali, Reed contends that it was in fact Sali's abrasive personality that lost him his seat in Congress. Unlike Chenoweth, Sali didn't particularly stand out in Congress (something those of us in Idaho who watched Sali would contend with) and back home his personality lost him votes his party traditionally could win:
But for a state wholly unaccustomed to good election-year news, Idaho's real breakthrough was the defeat of first-term congressman Bill Sali, who through sheer force of unpleasant personality persuaded a staunchly conservative district to swear off extremism. With a disastrous campaign, Sali finally lived up to his billing as the Republican whom Idaho Republicans most love to hate.
Bruce Reed makes sure to mention the bunny ears incident with John Foster, Minnick's campaign spokesman, as well as Congressman Simpson's, then Idaho Speaker of the House, threat of throwing Sali out a capitol window. On the matter of the bunny ears:
The spokesman tried to dismiss the incident with what might as well have been Idaho's mantra in the Craig-Sali era: "If we can't laugh at ourselves, then what have we become?"
It is unfortunate that the national press is lumping Sali's defeat and disaster of a congressional term with the career of Larry Craig. For the joke that Larry Craig has become, continuing to refer to convicted felon Senator Stevens as "Uncle Ted" on the floor of the Senate still thismorning, his otherwise traditional conservative career in Congress used to be a highlight of Republican politics in this state. However, the national press will continue to look at the antics of Sali and the unfortunate events in a Minnesota airport bathroom stall in the same light. Perhaps it is as unfortunate for Bill Sali that he is considered in the category of the now infamous reputation of Larry Craig as it is the past life and semi-esteemed carrer of Craig to be lumped in with the short congressional career of Sali.
If you have not read Bruce Reed's column because of his association with the DLC or any other reason you've previously refrained from reading his stuff, please do so for the ending alone: "Etymologists say the word patoot derives from potato.Over the years, Idaho has produced plenty of both. But without Larry Craig and Bill Sali to kick around, Famous Patoots will no longer be the state motto."