Opinion

Pay-to-play candidate visits to Idaho ignore press, public

kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Thanks to David Klinger’s Guest Opinion of May 7, I know that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor visited Boise 79 years ago this month and spent a morning motoring around town marveling at the trees and families they encountered.

At one point they stopped at the Idaho Statehouse, where Roosevelt made brief but glowing remarks before a crowd estimated at 15,000 that had gathered to get a glimpse of their president.

I know there was a “press conference” because Klinger has access to photos of the visit and one depicts Roosevelt, seated in a car adjacent to microphones, one of them from KIDO.

Sure, it was another time, but FDR pressed the flesh and put himself out there to Idahoans — just as President Barack Obama did, to some extent, last year at Boise State University.

What a contrast to the visits to Idaho by the two vice presidential candidates this summer — Hillary Clinton running mate Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, and Donald Trump’s VP pick, Gov. Mike Pence, R-Indiana.

Kaine dropped in to a Sun Valley fundraiser last month to collect the cash in a private affair that excluded the media and anybody else who would not pony up a donation. Pence did the same pay-for-play arrangement Thursday in Boise, for the most part. Kudos to KBOI news anchor Brent Hunsaker, who questioned Pence for seven minutes on the tarmac before he boarded a plane to head out of town.

Idaho GOP and Trump officials had made it clear there were not going to be any media opportunities to engage Pence in Boise. Statesman photographer Kyle Green did get a photo of a smiling, thumbs-up Pence on the street outside Zions Bank downtown.

Whatever Kaine and Pence said to their deep-pocket audiences, it was above the heads and pay grades of the hoi polloi and the media. It’s a sad but true fact that money talks in politics and that our candidates are fluent in all fundraiser dialects.

Layne Bangerter, a GOP operative who is Donald Trump’s paid staffer in Idaho, said Pence’s lack of availability wasn’t his call. He did tell Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell that the Boise fundraiser, attended by about 150 supporters, “was an inspiring night, and we heard a message from an inspiring leader, and it was just wonderful.”

That just warms my heart — and makes me grit my teeth.

Friday morning, I visited with Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who is seeking re-election. He wanted to share with me that over the past 22 months he has held town halls in 200 incorporated Idaho towns, ranging in population from three (Warm River) to Boise’s 200,000-plus.

In an earlier column, I had chided some Idaho politicians for not getting out around the state more and hosting events where constituents could come to ask questions. Rep. Raul Labrador has always been good about this, and I commend Crapo for making himself accessible.

Crapo didn’t attend the Pence event. When I asked him about it, he said, “It would have been better if there had been a news conference.”

Clinton is averse to news conferences, too, and hasn’t held one in more than 280 days. This is bad form for parties, and for voters who benefit from reporters getting to ask politicians questions directly.

Isn’t it time our candidates realize they are running for public office to provide a public service?

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