State Politics

I’ll take ‘Idaho legislators’ for $1,000, Alex

Timberline High School alumna Niki Peters won $50,000 on the “Jeopardy!” game show Friday. In honor of the former Boisean’s accomplishment, here are five Jeopardy-style clues in the “Idaho legislators” category:

$200: This former county commissioner and two-term lawmaker from eastern Idaho tried out for the Los Angeles Angels baseball franchise and then became a softball fiend.

Answer: Who is Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony?

Romrell, who served six years as a Fremont County commissioner and 40 years as the county coroner, started playing ball when he was 12 years old. He was in college when the Angels, an American League expansion team, held tryouts in Idaho Falls.

“I spent my whole life at shortstop, but when I tried out for the Angels, they put me on second base,” said the soft-spoken rancher. “I weighed 135 pounds. They invited me back the next year, but suggested I put on weight. I got married instead. At that time, you couldn’t live on a player’s salary. I had to decide between a dream or reality.”

Romrell continued to play ball well into his 50s. His softball teams won upward of 20 regional championships and participated in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “All-Church” tournament five times.

$400: After spending 15 years helping to modernize heavy manufacturing plants in the Midwest, this second-term Republican representative bought a failing Treasure Valley preschool business and turned it around.

Answer: Who is Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian?

Harris, who has a master’s degree in technology management, initially worked as a consultant, designing computer-integrated manufacturing systems for heavy industrial customers in Iowa.

He then moved to Idaho, where his wife was raised. Unleashing his entrepreneurial side, he began buying and selling businesses, trying to improve their cash flow.

“If I don’t see a way to double or triple net income, I don’t make the investment,” he said. “I’m looking for things the current owner doesn’t see. That’s how I add value, and when you add value, money is made.”

Harris has owned businesses as diverse as the preschool, a commercial printing supply firm, a backyard shed manufacturer and a water well supply company.

$600: After making the initial cut for the San Francisco Giants baseball team while in high school, this Southern Idaho Democrat went on to become the freshman saber champion at Harvard University.

Answer: Who is Rep. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello?

Nye, whose family came to Idaho in the mid-1800s, grew up in Pocatello. When the Giants held a regional tryout, he made the first cut, but not the second.

“They said ‘good bat, good arm, no wheels,’” recalled the left-handed pitcher.

He then headed back East to attend Harvard, where he won the freshman intramural fencing tournament. His college roommate was Larry O’Brien, whose father was campaign manager for John F. Kennedy and later served as commissioner of the National Basketball Association.

Nye subsequently earned a law degree from the University of Idaho and later served as president of the Idaho State Bar.

$800: Before earning a black belt in the “White Dragon” system of martial arts, this Treasure Valley senator had to dodge the arrows his instructor shot at him.

Answer: Who is Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa?

Lakey, a former Canyon County commissioner and deputy prosecutor, grew up in Oregon and Utah. He began studying martial arts in high school. The style was a combination of Chin Shu, a Chinese martial arts, and Tang Soo Do, a Korean style popularized by actor Chuck Norris.

“My instructor was a black belt in both,” Lakey said. “It was called the White Dragon system. I taught it in college. The classes were a mix of adults and kids — most of whom wanted to be Ralph Macchio (of ‘The Karate Kid’ fame).”

Besides hand-to-hand combat, Lakey also learned to use various weapons. As a deputy prosecutor, he kept a practice sword in his office. He thought about buying a three-part staff, but decided he’d be more of a danger to himself than anyone else. It took him five years to earn his black belt.

“My instructor used to shoot arrows at us, and we’d try to catch them,” he said. “They didn’t have a sharp tip, but you probably couldn’t sign enough liability waivers to do that today.”

$1,000: Before spending two years on a remote Hells Canyon ranch in the late 1970s, this northern Idaho senator lettered in volleyball at Stanford University.

Answer: Who is Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow?

Schmidt grew up in Escondido, Calif. A stellar athlete, he was recruited to play football after enrolling at Stanford University.

“Then I saw the size of the other players and decided that wasn’t for me,” he said.

Schmidt joined the volleyball team instead. He ended up earning a varsity letter. However, he blew out his knee during a pickup game one summer. He couldn’t afford medical treatment, so his leg healed on its own. He has a slight limp to this day.

After graduation, Schmidt spent two years working at Starveout Ranch, a remote property his grandparents owned in Hells Canyon. They put up hay in enormous loose piles, raised chickens, grew their own vegetables. They picked strawberries, raspberries, pears and four kinds of apples. They had a milk cow, churned their own butter and poured cream on almost everything.

“There was no phone, no electricity,” Schmidt said. “It was about a three-hour drive to Council. It was a beautiful location.”

Spence covers politics for the Tribune,, (208) 791-9168.

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