The Congressional Candidate Forum this past weekend at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, sponsored by the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, was a depressing exercise testifying to the validity of George Santayana’s saying that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The parallels to 2006 were uncanny. As Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
In front of a standing room only crowd of 300 people were six Republicans, all possessing solid conservative credentials. Three of the six gave thoughtful, constructive conservative-based answers to a series of questions, and three were hell bent on trying to establish that they were the only true blue conservative and the rest were dangerously close to being RINOS (Republicans In Name Only).
Does anyone remember Bill Sali? In 2006, when Butch Otter opened the seat up by his decision to forsake Congress and run for governor, there were six Republicans who thought they saw a member of Congress when they looked in the mirror. An obscure little known state legislator from the Treasure Valley far to the right of many mainstream Republicans nonetheless emerged from the primary as the party’s candidate with just 26 percent of the vote.
Sali played up his adherence to Christian values, his 100 percent pro-life record and once he was seated, he voted against the first legislation authorizing a Children’s Health Insurance Program for kids from low income households. He also voted against then-President Bush’s comprehensive immigration reform bill because it allowed for some amnesty. Sound familiar?
Sali was such a disaster as a congressman that he was defeated in his bid for re-election by Democrat Walt Minnick. That was the first time an incumbent was bounced after just one term since 1952, when Coeur d’Alene’s Dr. John Wood lost his bid for re-election to Democrat Gracie Pfost.
Of the three pandering to the far right the worst was Mike Snyder from Bonners Ferry. He is the living definition of a demagogue. He began his introduction by shouting “how many of you out there believe Hillary Clinton ought to be in jail?” Two thirds of the audience raised their hands, but one brave person shouted loudly “no.” “How many of you believe Robert Mueller should be fired?” Again, two thirds of the hands went up.
“How many of you believe the Federal Reserve Bank should be abolished?” Again two-thirds of the hands raised. Utterly unbelievable there are that many folks who get suckered by such rhetoric and not only don’t trust government, but hate all levels.
Oh, there’s an exception though: Government is needed to enforce the right-to-life and no exceptions for the life of the mother, rape or incest, Snyder says.
Snyder continued his pandering by shouting that he would vote against any bill that contained as little as one penny for Planned Parenthood.
Later, he implored the audience to drive the RINOs out of the Republican party and he accused Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of being RINOs. One had the feeling that anyone who didn’t agree with him was a RINO.
Initially Nick Henderson, the late Frank Henderson’s grandson and a commercial pilot, sounded sensible, but before long he was charging that the entire Congress was corrupt and that he wanted to be there to clean up the corruption which he saw as primarily driven by lobbyists.
Former State Senator Russ Fulcher still comes across as one wishing to be governor, which he originally declared for until Raul Labrador decided to run for governor. His answer for everything seemed to be, “Read the Constitution and read your Bible and one will have the answers.”
Any sensible person would scratch Snyder, Fulcher and Henderson from their list. None of the other three came across as zealots or single issue types. State Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, former Attorney General and Lt. Governor David Leroy and State Rep. Christy Perry, R-Middleton, all conveyed that they would work to make Congress functional again while adhering to their major conservative principles from balancing the budget to support for lower taxes and effective efforts to limit bureaucratic regulations.
Leroy’s experience separated him from Malek and Perry. His answers were more specific and his knowledge of the issues deeper. If grading the top three on a scale of one to 10, I’d give Leroy an 8, Malek a 6 and Perry a 5. On the other side, Henderson gets 3, Fulcher a 2 and Snyder a 0.
If you want someone who will be an island unto himself and prove unable to work in a legislative environment, go ahead and vote for the reincarnation of Bill Sali. And history will repeat itself with a Democrat taking the seat back after one term.
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Chris Carlson is a longtime Idaho political analyst and writer who resides in Medimont.