Larry Kenck: Blue collar to the bone

IN PERSON

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Larry Kenck, of Post Falls, was recently named chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party.

Post Falls man hopes to build consensus while leading Idaho Democrats

As a youngster, Larry Kenck was one of the quietest kids in his class.

Today he's chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party.

Kenck said stuttering, which he later overcame, made him shy growing up.

"I was very self-conscious," he said.

But times changed - to the point the retired fourth-generation Post Falls man pursued a radio degree and later became outspoken on topics ranging from right to work and heavier trucks on highways.

Kenck developed self confidence from his blue collar background and his family raising its own beef and vegetables to make ends meet.

"My father was a union carpenter, and my mother was a rural mail carrier," he said. "It wasn't a life filled with money. You needed to pull your own weight."

That upbringing prepared Kenck, 64, for his career as a labor organizer. He was a business agent with the Teamsters Union, a spokesman for Repeal Right to Work and a member of the Idaho State AFL-CIO.

Kenck founded the North Idaho Democracy Dinner, which is in its 12th year. He ran for state Senate in 1996 and 1998 and has served as Kootenai County Democratic Party chairman.

His current focus is leading the Idaho Democrats, which elected him as their two-year chairman last weekend. He is the first resident of the Panhandle to chair the group in decades.

What are your goals as IDP chairman?

I kicked off the Democratic Hands Across Idaho campaign with my speech last weekend. We need to put aside our differences and focus on the same thing. I'm an organizer and a consensus builder. The chairman is like the stagecoach driver. I just hold the reins and the party itself takes the stagecoach where it goes.

How would you describe the state of Idaho's Democratic Party today?

We're growing and, even though we we're few in numbers, we have great legislators. They are good people who are able to form a consensus in coalitions. The people in the party are looking to find ways to improve the economy and education. But we need to continue to reach out to people.

Describe what the party needs to do to balance the political climate of Idaho more.

Some Democrats are quiet because they don't want to get picked on, but they're all over the place. We need to convince them, that if we're ever going to make changes on things we care about, we've got to get out and vote. There's two choices - sit on our hands and let things happen or get out and vote.

Do you see much progress in reaching out and expanding the party?

We see new groups forming to speak up for their rights. The Latino population and young people are really stepping up. Young people are saying that legislation doesn't just affect retirees and the middle class, but it affects them as well. How can anyone get a world-class education when there's been so many cuts? We've lost so much of what we've invested in education.

Besides growing up in a blue-collar home, what tipped you toward being involved in politics?

When I was going into junior high school, I walked with my mother to distribute literature for the John Kennedy campaign in the McGuire area (of Post Falls). That's when I really got involved with upholding worker rights and keeping the economy going.

You worked on Repeal Right to Work. Do you think there's any chance of right to work getting repealed in Idaho anytime soon?

I'm not aware of a group working on it, but I feel any time is the right time. Even though it's been a strong Democrat issue in the past, it won't be my focus as chair (of the IDP). Repeal Right to Work is a different organization than the party.

What's your opinion of where there labor movement is today?

Labor is taking it hard. This recession has caused wages and pensions to erode or even disappear. If anyone has suffered the most, it's the working men and women. That's why we need to focus on the economy and good-paying jobs. Not the type of jobs where it takes three to pay for the mortgage. When people don't have discretionary money, it also hurts businesses.

What was it like working for the Teamsters?

Difficult, rewarding and agonizing. Contract negotiations are like walking a tightrope. You try to do the best you can for the workers and keep businesses surviving.

What do you think was your biggest milestone?

I'm honored and privileged to serve as the chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party. I also was a lobbyist with the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks to keep highways safe both federally and in 38 states. In 2004 there was a bi-partisan effort that stopped the increase in truck sizes and weights.

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