There is no lack of Idaho voters who would enthusiastically agree with the quote attributed to Washington conservative Grover Norquist, that he wanted to shrink government "to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." That's just the kind of approach - you can check it in the rhetoric - that so many Idaho Republicans have been running with, to great electoral success, for so many years.
The measure of Walt Minnick's success - as the first Idaho Democrat to win congressional seat in 16 years - may be the degree to which he blunts the force of that attitude. Not so much by rhetoric, as by virtue of example.
"In terms of constituent service and instilling an ability to represent people in the district that are dealing with our government, I'm going to do everything I can to be the best there is," he said in an interview this morning. Which may sound like a normal statement of good intentions from a newly-elected, except that in this case there may be more to it.
To put a point on it . . . All members of Congress do constituent service and run field offices and staffs; the Republican incumbent Minnick defeated, Bill Sali, did. And, "I certainly share the philosophy that a smaller government, a less intrusive government, is in everyone's best interest," he said. However - and this is where Idaho Republicans less often go: "You deal with the government as you find it. I don't think describing it in pejorative terms is likely to induce cooperation. We will work the system we find as effectively as possible." And, "I've always [found] in my experience, if you treat people well," those people will tend to be more helpful. "If people want to help you in the dept of transportation or the Social Security Administration, they will work late they will go talk to their bosses, they'll try to find interpretation of rules that allow them to tell you yes. It's no different from a corporate or other organization, or local government organization."
Minnick gives you the sense that this is how he'll approach a lot of the job: Cooperation whenever possible, use of relationships (he knows personally people on the Obama transition crew, for example) and much less often any sharp edges. (You can imagine without much stretch that he and Representative Mike Simpson, who has devoted a lot of effort to building relationships all over the House, may find expansive grounds for cooperation.) Given the opportunity to take a shot at Sali or other Republicans, he declined (somewhat like Barack Obama since election day). In terms of personality and approach, Minnick probably will be hard for the opposition to demonize. (more…)