Idaho could move toward the center

  • Walt Minnick


Two years ago, Idaho's congressional delegation took a hard turn to the right. Two Republican senators, Dirk Kempthorne and Larry Craig, already led the state, but the addition to the House of newcomer Helen Chenoweth (who claims that salmon aren't endangered because they're still available at the supermarket) moved the delegation to a new extreme. In 1995, Idaho amassed the lowest environmental voting score of any state's delegation - straight zeroes, according to the League of Conservation Voters' recently released scorecard. The delegation consistently voted against laws that would rein in the state's mining, timber and livestock industries.

Believing that many Idahoans feel abandoned by their current representation, a Boise businessman says he's eager to shift the political balance. Walt Minnick, 53, a former Republican turned Independent, is running on the Democratic ticket against Sen. Craig. Minnick's campaign theme, "Don't Waste Idaho," points a finger at Craig for allowing nuclear waste shipments into the state. Minnick also says he wants to save the state's endangered salmon and protect public lands.

But Minnick, a native Westerner, is also a fiscal conservative who advocates a balanced federal budget and campaign-finance reform. For over 20 years he worked for Trus Joist, a wood-products corporation in Idaho, eventually becoming its chief executive officer. Before launching into business, he served a brief stint in the Nixon administration but resigned in 1973 to protest the administration's involvement in Watergate. He has never before run for elective office.

"Minnick is a fairly rare breed," says Karl Brooks of the Idaho Conservation League. "He's both a successful businessman and a devoted conservationist." For Brooks, that means Minnick could "re-define where the middle ground is in Idaho."

Defeating Craig won't be easy. He has championed many causes for the powerful livestock, timber and mining industries in the Gem State. He co-sponsored the grazing bill now before Congress, supported last year's salvage logging legislation, and worked against serious mining law reform.

"Sen. Craig has been a real friend to the resource industries of Idaho," says Bob Sears of the Idaho Cattle Association. "He'd be real hard to replace."

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