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Commentaries and editorials

Narrowing the Field of 13:
Risch, LaRocco Deserve Nominations

by Editorial Board
Idaho Statesman, May 18, 2008

Jim Risch would go to the U.S. Senate with the savvy that comes with a career in politics. On many issues, Risch offers a real improvement over retiring U.S. Sen. Larry Craig.

Risch gets our nod in an eight-way Republican Senate primary -- despite a campaign that has carried a whiff of entitlement and inevitability.

In the Democratic primary, perhaps an even more inevitable race, we endorse former U.S. Rep. Larry LaRocco over longshot David Archuleta.


An obstinately old-school Western Republican, Craig has spent 28 years fervently defending the state's traditional resource industries. He often viewed conservationism with detachment or disdain.

Not so with Risch:

Risch says energy would be his top Senate priority -- saying, with good reason, that energy will be the focus of the economic development debate for the next 10 to 20 years. But Risch would bring a green sensibility to the discussion. During his busy seven-month run as governor, Risch helped to block the construction of a mercury-emitting coal-fired power plant in the Magic Valley.

Risch supports both the Owyhee and Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bills. He also spent much of his time as governor trying to draw up a plan to limit development on Idaho's 9.3 million acres of roadless land.

Many Idaho politicians have taken an intransigent stance against breaching four lower Snake River dams -- a move that may provide Idaho salmon their only chance at recovery.

Risch, at least, is open-minded enough to say that the science may someday support breaching. "We may get to that point."

These positions on energy and environmental issues reflect the overriding pragmatism that makes Risch a solid choice. But during this campaign, Idahoans also have seen plenty of Risch's other side: his political cunning.

After Craig's airport men's room arrest became public in August, Risch's name seemed to head the list of would-be successors. Risch jumped into the race in October -- and top Republicans took the unusual step of endorsing Risch from the outset. Risch has since run an arm's-length campaign. In May, Risch turned down an invitation for a statewide televised debate, protesting a format that would allow candidates to question each other. Given Risch's training as a trial lawyer and his 28 years in public office, his excuse borders on laughable.

Risch outmaneuvered other potential big-name primary challengers -- most notably Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. The conventional wisdom holds that Risch is facing seven unknown GOP lightweights.

This perception gives short shrift to Scott Syme of Wilder, an impressive, eloquent Iraq War veteran.

His international experience and global perspective trump Risch, who has built a resume exclusively in state politics. Syme's stated goal -- focusing first on constituent service -- is practical for a new senator who might well be serving in the minority caucus.

Syme an attractive candidate yet a political novice. We urge him to run again. We cannot recommend a neophyte for one of Idaho's four seats in Congress when, in Risch, Republicans have a proven commodity.


Democrats also know what they're getting in LaRocco. Experience is his key selling point. From 1991 to 1995, he represented Idaho's conservative 1st Congressional District -- and while Idaho's open Senate race has attracted 13 candidates, only LaRocco can boast Capitol Hill experience.

A Risch-LaRocco race would offer Idahoans clear distinctions on health care, Iraq and taxes -- and some fireworks. There's plenty of bad blood between these two longtime adversaries, who squared off in the 2006 lieutenant governor's race.

In this primary, it's no contest. LaRocco has spent 13 months running for Senate -- a campaign that predates Craig's airport arrest scandal and subsequent announcement to retire -- and he has crafted detailed positions on issues such as health care, energy and immigration. Archuleta, running a shoestring campaign, appears to have done little to study the issues.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.

Editorial Board
Narrowing the Field of 13: Risch, LaRocco Deserve Nominations
Idaho Statesman, May 18, 2008

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