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Helen Chenoweth-Hage

Quite a lot will doubtless be said soon about Helen Chenoweth-Hage, who died in a car crash this morning near Tonopah, Nevada. The former U.S. representative from Idaho’s 1st district (1995-2001) was a distinctive and strong personality, and it seems peculiarly unfitting that her passing occur as a passenger in an auto accident; that’s simply tragic.

Helen Chenoweth-HageWe recall her most specifically in connection with one arrival and two departures.

The arrival was political, in the year 1994, when she entered the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House. At the time she did that, her prospects seemed dim. Though she was a veteran Republican worker and staffer, she was the least-known of the three Republicans seeking the nomination, the less funded, the one everyone figured would be in third place – the fight, said the cognoscenti, would be between the other two. And whichever won would be unlikely to unseat the incumbent, Democrat Larry La Rocco, who had won easy re-election in two years before.

So much for all that: Helen Chenoweth (as she was then) ran an energetic race and took the prize. It was a cationary note, in a sense, to be careful who you underestimate. Which sets up the two departures …

In 2000, she was facing a situation many of her colleagues were: In 1994 a lot of Republicans elected to Congress pledged to serve three terms and no more. In 2000 a lot of Republicans broke that pledge. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (as she was by then) did not: She kept her word and stepped down. She’s had no lack of critics over the years, but they’ve all had to moderate their criticism of her with that tough-minded show of integrity.

As a private citizen, she remained vocal and tough-minded, and not just on a public platform. One day, not so long ago, she was at the Boise airport preparing for a flight back to Nevada, where in recent years she has lived with husband Wayne Hage. Arriving at the search area, she was instructed to submit to a search she thought was unreasonable. She asked the officials there: What is your authority for asking for this? (That being a question any citizen should always be able to ask of a government official and expect a clear answer.) She was told: We won’t tell you. She then did what a liberty-minded American citizen should always do in such a situation, and what all too few actually do: She picked up her bags, walked out and drove to Nevada.

There was a day, in the early and mid parts of her congressional tenure, when Helen Chenoweth’s critics were unflagging in their blasts at her. We suspect that a lot of them, reflecting today, wish she were still around to take up the battle. She will be missed.

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  1. msolomon msolomon October 3, 2006

    Maybe it’s not so surprising that she died in a car crash given her rebellion against all requirements governmental: she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

  2. Tara A. Rowe Tara A. Rowe October 3, 2006

    I once gave a presentation on women in Idaho politics and as I reflect on it, I regret not giving nearly as much credit to Helen Chenoweth as I should have for her admirable exit from the U.S. House.

    We may criticize all we want, her influence and legacy in Idaho is worthy of applause.

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