Capitol & State

Smyser leaves Senate staff to manage Risch re-election campaign

Veteran GOP activist Melinda Smyser on Tuesday shifted from U.S. Sen. Jim Risch's official staff to lead his re-election bid for a second term. Smyser was Risch's southwest regional director and worked in his Boise office.

Smyser, of Parma, currently chairs the Canyon County Republican Party and advocates a "big tent" GOP. At June's fractious state convention, she urged party unity.

Risch is a former Ada County prosecutor, state senator and lieutenant governor. He was governor for seven months in 2006 and elected to the Senate in 2008. Risch faces first-time Demmocratic candidate Nels Mitchell in the Nov. 4 election.

Smyser served two terms in the Idaho Senate, 2008-2012, retiring rather than face a primary against Sen. Patti Ann Lodge, R-Huston. Smyser's husband, Skip, is among Idaho's most influential lobbyists and served eight years in the Senate. He left the Legislature in 1990 for a failed bid for the U.S. House.

Risch announced the news Tuesday afternoon.

“Melinda brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, not only from her own public service, but also from working on campaigns in Idaho for the past 30 years," Risch said in a press release. "Her leadership in the State Republican’s Central Committee and the Idaho Federation of Republican Women’s Organization has been very successful in the many years she has led them. The organizational and listening skills and her boundless energy will be invaluable as we run an active community driven campaign.”

Mitchell is running a plucky campaign with frequent criticisms of Risch. Managing the effort is former U.S. Attorney Betty Richardson.

As Ada County Democratic chairwoman in the 1980s, Richardson helped engineer Risch's first-ever defeat when Mike Burkett unseated the seven-term lawmaker in 1988. Risch was the Senate president pro tem at the time, the top leadership post. 

Risch subsequently lost two primaries to Sen. Roger Madsen. Risch's second act began in 1995 when Gov. Phil Batt appointed him to fill the vacancy left by Madsen's appointment to lead the Idaho Department of Labor.

The U.S. Senate seat held by Risch has been controlled by Republicans since Sen. Henry Dworshak was appointed to fill a vacancy after the death of Democratic Sen. Bert Miller in 1949. Statistical guru Nate Silver ranks Risch as a 99-to-1 favorite to hold the seat as Republicans press to win control of both houses of Congress.

Shortly before Risch's announcement Tuesday, Mitchell issued a news release urging Risch to vote for a tax reform bill Mitchell says would boost American jobs.

Mitchell's release follows:


BOISE - Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has an opportunity to reverse his record and support bringing overseas jobs back home, challenger Nels Mitchell said today.

"When a corporation ships jobs overseas, we taxpayers subsidize them by letting them deduct the cost of moving the jobs overseas from their taxes," Mitchell said. "In other words, they get a tax break for killing American jobs. That's crazy."

The "Bring Jobs Home Act" s expected to be brought up for a Senate vote this week. This bill would close the tax loophole that allows companies to reduce their taxes by the cost of moving American jobs overseas. However, the bill would keep the benefit for any company that brings jobs back to the U.S.

When similar legislation was introduced in 2012 to end the tax break for shipping jobs overseas, Risch was among those who blocked the bill.

"This is one more example of Risch voting against the interests of Idaho taxpayers and Idaho workers," Mitchell said.

A 2012 report estimated that between 2001 and 2011, Idaho lost more than 18,000 jobs to China alone. That is, 2.65% of all Idaho jobs were shipped overseas to China during that 10-year period. On a percentage basis, Idaho lost the seventh most jobs to China, trailing only Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and California.

"Idahoans should watch this bill closely," Mitchell said, "to see if Sen. Risch still favors giving tax breaks to companies that ship American jobs overseas to places like China."

"I strongly support the 'Bring Jobs Home Act' Mitchell said. "As your Senator, I will always put Idaho workers and taxpayers first."