The Editorial Board is a seven-member body made up of the Idaho Statesman publisher, opinion page editor and five volunteer community members. Its opinions are independent of Statesman newsroom efforts.
Over the past several weeks the Idaho Statesman has researched and interviewed the candidates (with one exception) in Idaho’s congressional races. We’ve measured their answers to our questions and some of their policy statements, and put them through the filter of a basic question: Who is best equipped to do what is best for Boise, the Treasure Valley, Idaho and the nation?
As early voting continues and the Nov. 8 election looms, it must be said that some of our choices in these important federal offices are made with more enthusiasm than others. So, we announce our picks beginning with the one we are most excited about.
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Mike Simpson for U.S. House, District 2
There is a reason why Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has been elected to serve nine terms in the U.S. House, and a 10th term seems like a formality on Nov. 8.
Simpson gets the job done for Idaho.
He finds the common ground necessary for conservationists and recreationists to collaborate and ultimately get behind Idaho solutions — such as protecting the Boulder-White Clouds. He keeps one eye on the big-picture goal of pursuing a national energy policy while focusing the other on securing the needs of the Idaho National Laboratory because he knows how critical that is to Idaho’s future.
We were unable to meet Simpson’s Democratic opponent, Jennifer Martinez, and hear why she should replace him. What little we know of Martinez is gleaned from her campaign website, where she explains she is a first-generation Idahoan, the daughter of immigrants, and that she has political experience working with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and as chief of staff for the Idaho House Minority Caucus.
If she aspires to serve in Congress, we recommend she study her opponent. In fact, of all the candidates seeking election or re-election to Congress from Idaho this year, Simpson is our model of what the Gem State deserves from its congressional delegation.
We admire someone who earns respect from voters, his party colleagues and even those across the aisle. His constituents at home and his colleagues in Washington know Simpson will listen and, once convinced, get behind good ideas without regard to the obstacles — or even where the legislation originated.
Though some consider such flexibility and pragmatism a weakness, Simpson uses it as a currency to purchase buy-in and cooperation to get things done for us in Idaho. The story of the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness is an example of this. Though it came to a triumphant end when 270,000 acres in Central Idaho were designated as wilderness in 2015, it took Simpson’s perseverance and skill over the previous decade to make it happen. And now Idaho has safeguarded a natural jewel with an “Idaho solution” that he and stakeholders hammered out.
Simpson has had a long Idaho political career in the Legislature and now Congress. When we asked him what he thought of the label “career politician,” he said that he is no fan of term limits and that he appreciates a mix of lawmakers with experience and “new blood.” But time in office should not be the measure of success: “What matters is the job you do when you’re there.”
Simpson’s long tenure on the Appropriations Committee has benefited Idaho over the years. He is one of the champions of a bill that would allow the government to fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters — and permit the U.S. Forest Service to spend more money on wildfire prevention and mitigation.
We appreciate Simpson’s long tenure and see no reason to call him home anytime soon. He’s an example of someone able to get things done in this gridlocked world.
James Piotrowski for U.S. House, District 1
We are endorsing Democrat James Piotrowski because we want more from our representative than the frequent “No” votes Republican Rep. Raul Labrador relies on — especially on spending bills where there are few other responsible choices than for Congress to vote to fund our government.
As one member of our Editorial Board put it: “We need a change.” Another said: “Labrador’s ‘No’ votes have been symbolic without impact.”
Though we easily endorsed Labrador in 2012 and 2014, today we have government-shutdown-threat fatigue, partisan politics fatigue and gridlock fatigue. We believe in team players. When your allegiances are seemingly as divided as Labrador’s are among the Republican Caucus and the House Freedom Caucus (the group that ignited the fire that consumed former Speaker John Boehner), and even at odds with your Idaho House colleague, you better be changing the world with all those “No” votes and coming up with brilliant alternatives that save the day.
Labrador, who has immigration expertise, may have had valid reasons for walking away from the bipartisan reform talks in 2014. But why hasn’t that resulted in a new pathway? We understand Labrador’s desire to reduce or cap federal spending while diminishing the size of the government at every opportunity, and we appreciate his ongoing work in criminal justice reform.
But we are confused about what Labrador cites as his crowning achievement this term — his work on the Puerto Rico bill to solve its debt crisis. We know going about it the wrong way may have affected the bond market in Idaho, but we’re not convinced the legislation is a final fix. The New York Times reported earlier this month that Puerto Rico’s outgoing governor warned the island still faces a fiscal “death spiral.”
Make no mistake, Piotrowski has plenty to learn. He’s operated a successful law practice “representing workers and building bridges between workers and employers,” but has never held public office. But when he told us that the team he will play for in Washington is not the Democratic team but the What’s Best For Idaho Team, he got our attention. We are optimistic he could work better with Simpson than Labrador.
Our selection of Piotrowski was not unanimous, but our Editorial Board had serious questions about Labrador’s effectiveness. Though Labrador says there is much to do in the 115th Congress and he wants to be there, we are not convinced he will be content with his current job; if re-elected, he might quickly pivot to a run for Idaho governor.
In Piotrowski, we see a man with lots of energy and a willingness to engage for Idaho. Though it might be more fun for a fly-fisher like Piotrowski to get an assignment on the Natural Resources Committee, he believes what Idaho really needs is a voice on the Agriculture and Veterans Affairs committees. We would like to see the 1st District give him and his energy that opportunity.
Mike Crapo for U.S. Senate
Incumbent Sen. Mike Crapo entered this race with the potentially career-ending baggage of a DUI arrest in 2012 — a most serious misstep for anyone, let alone a three-term senator eying a leadership role in the chamber.
Many have found a way to look past that incident based on Crapo’s long-term promise and performance in the Idaho Legislature, and work accomplished in earlier Senate terms. And, someday, Crapo might once again live up to our expectations, such as the kind of work he performed on the Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. That was a bipartisan body that delivered one of the most honest and accurate assessments of this country’s financial challenges, even if it has been totally ignored.
We are not convinced Crapo is back on track since the DUI. He may be lost, coasting or drafting off a reputation as that fiscal-responsibility fighter best depicted in one of his TV commercials — the one with him behind the wheel, reminding Idaho he is in a 365-24-7 battle against deficit demons.
But a near-unanimous Editorial Board was not ready to give up on Crapo, even though he continues to give us reason to. The Trump Flip-Flop that went the full 360 degrees back to his original, indefensible position to support Trump is a mind-bender. The statement he made to the board that he isn’t compelled to return campaign contributions received from the troubled and tainted Wells Fargo Bank tested our resolve.
In the end what Crapo has, and what opponent Jerry Sturgill lacks, are experience and tenure. Sturgill is a smart and earnest man, but he’s not yet ready to be entrusted with a six-year term in the U.S. Senate. That’s a big responsibility and a long, long time. Sturgill’s life and business experiences in New York City and elsewhere in the West, his philanthropic nature, and his devotion to his faith and Idaho values make us hopeful he will get there — but not at this time.
That leaves us with Crapo, the Harvard Law grad who has the smarts to unscramble our tax code and work with others in Congress to bring about tax reform, which may be the one uniting issue our Congress will encounter over the next few years.
We’ve seen Crapo’s skills as a collaborator, working with diverse and even antagonistic stakeholders to settle land issues. There is some likelihood that if the Republicans hold on to the Senate and protocol prevails, Crapo could become chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. That’s a big deal for a state with a tiny congressional delegation.
If you are still in there, Mike Crapo of old, it’s time to make your fourth Senate term the best one ever, an opportunity to make good for Idaho and the nation.
Unsigned Editorial Board opinions express the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com