Craig: Betting on Idaho's enduring conservatism

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to a feature story.

For Sen. Larry Craig, who has been in politics since 1974, the recipe for success is simple: Be a Republican. After all, Idaho has boasted the most conservative state legislature in the country four years running.

"He's not popular like (Wyoming Sen.) Alan Simpson was. People vote for him not so much because of himself, but because of the "R" after his name," says Idaho conservationist Pat Ford.

In fact, Craig is not merely a Republican. He is an ƒberRepublican. Just finishing his first term in the Senate, Craig, 51, is already starring as the fourth-ranking Republican since he was elected Policy Committee Chairman.

Named the most conservative senator in the country in 1994 by National Journal (he tied for first place with Idaho's other senator, Dirk Kempthorne), Craig sits on the board of directors for the National Rifle Association and chairs two key subcommittees on forestry. He wields power - not a bad thing for lightly populated Idaho to have in Washington, D.C.

Born on the ranch his grandfather homesteaded in 1899, Craig was student body president at the University of Idaho and state president of Future Farmers of America. Craig then spent six years in the state legislature and 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before he beat Democrat Richard Stallings for Senate in 1990.

With these qualifications securely in place, Craig doesn't need to rely on personality, says David Proctor, who works for the anti-nuclear waste initiative campaign. "His whole style is to be above the fray. You don't see much of Larry Craig. He's like the CEO of a company: invisible."

Behind the scenes, Craig keeps the commodity groups happy. "We're very pleased with our senator on all of the issues that a farmer is concerned about - rangeland reform, endangered species, wetlands," says Greg Nelson of the Idaho Farm Bureau.

Craig supported legislation to weaken the Endangered Species Act and championed a "takings" bill. Even union timber workers in the traditionally more Democratic north support Craig for writing a "forest health" bill that would expedite logging.

Craig has also carried the torch of the mining industry. He led the fight against reforming the 1872 Mining Law, and split from other Republicans by voting to end a moratorium on patenting mining claims.

The industries, in turn, have been kind to Larry Craig. His list of Political Action Committee contributions reads like a directory of natural resource industries. For his first Senate race in 1990, $819,306 of PAC money flowed to his coffers from groups like ASARCO Employees PAC and the Chevron Employees PAC.

PACs advocating a rewrite of the Endangered Species Act gave him $212,017 and mining PACs alone gave him $65,858. By 1995, the mining PACs had already matched that amount to aid his re-election bid.

Craig maintains that PAC contributions don't buy his politics; he is merely trying to help his state's economy. "When you're supporting the industries of the state and the jobs of the state, therefore you're supporting the people of the state," he told the Associated Press.

Environmentalists are skeptical of this reasoning: Mining provided only 2,700 jobs in Idaho in 1995, according to the Idaho Department of Labor, about half of 1 percent of the state's jobs. Agricultural employment accounts for approximately 6 percent of the state's jobs. And two of Craig's biggest contributors are companies that want to mine exclusively in Colorado and Nevada.

Could Idaho's changing demographics bring an end to Craig's success?

Most democrats say the jury is still out, but Mike Tracy, a spokesman for Craig's campaign, says, "Exactly the opposite is true. Conventional wisdom was that with people moving here we would become a more democratic state. People underestimated the value of the conservative climate here."

Tracy points to Dawn Berheim and her husband, Greg. Young, newly married, middle-class, they recently moved from New Mexico to Meridian, a bedroom town ten miles west of Boise. The Berheims are just the sort of voters Walt Minnick is counting on. But they are voting for Craig.

"We're starting our family and he has a commitment to family issues. He pretty much opposes abortion ... supports school prayer," says Berheim from the pharmacy where she works. "The environment is not real important to me. I think he's pro-environment, but not radically so."

High Country News Classifieds
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The conservation non-profit Invasive Species Action Network seeks an executive director. We are focused on preventing the human-caused spread of invasive species by promoting voluntary...
  • HIGH COUNTRY NEWS EDITORIAL INTERNS
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is looking for its next cohort of editorial interns....