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Cooperative hardball politics

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All those who think Idaho Democratic Representative Walt Minnick is a dead man walking for the election in 2010, and all those who think the (Republican) rest of the Idaho congressional delegation is SOL what with the decisive Democratic takeover of Congress, listen up.

You need to pay attention to a string of three recent press releases. They carry a weight of meaning.

Here’s the lead paragraph from one, dated January 6, from the of office of Republican Representative (2nd district) Mike Simpson, with co-contact information from Minnick’s office: “Idaho Congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick today introduced the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA). The bill settles ongoing disputes over how to manage public land in Central Idaho by creating wilderness, releasing wilderness study areas, allowing for federal land transfers and providing for economic relief to residents in Custer and Blaine counties.”

The Republican and Democratic representatives jointly introducing a wilderness bill (which Simpson had been pushing, over the opposition of Minnick’s Republican predecessor, for some years). Hmm.

Here’s another one, also jointly released from the offices on Wednesday: “Idaho Congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick today voted to pass a measure that will ease financial burdens on thousands of Idaho families. The State Children Health Insurance program was reauthorized today by the U.S. House of Representatives. Children from hardworking, low- to middle-income Idaho families who do not qualify for Medicare would have access to health care under the S-CHIP bill.”

Working together on a health/welfare issue. Hmm.

Now the third, out today, from the office of new Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, countering a lawsuit by environmental groups against a roadless area plan Risch worked on as governor. The third paragraph says this: “‘Over the last several years, Idaho has been at the forefront of the collaborative, local-focused approach to management of public lands. The west needs more of that, and fewer lawsuits,’ Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick said. ‘Senator Risch’s carefully crafted roadless plan is yet another fine example of what can be done when leaders bring people to the table in an effort to find common ground, and I hope today’s news does not hamper future collaboration between sportsmen, business, leaders such as Governor Otter, Senator Risch, the rest of our delegation, and the many other people who care about Idaho’s public lands.’”

Here we have Minnick appearing favorably in a Risch press release, and Minnick offering some support for Risch on an environmental issue.

Hey, wait a minute: Where’s all the partisan bashing? Didn’t these guys go to D.C.? Don’t they know how this stuff works?

Actually, they seem to have figured out, quickly, some significant things.

All three of them – and this goes for Senator Mike Crapo, too, who likely will be part of this mix as well – have significant assets and liabilities at this point.

Minnick’s liability is the most obvious: His home district is extremely Republican, and he needs all the help he can get to win re-election in 2010. He does have assets, though. He is a member of Congress’ majority party, not a small thing, and also a member of the president’s party, also not a small thing. That can help him with his home district, but even more, it could help him with the other Idahoans in Congress, Republicans that they are.

Simpson and Risch (and Crapo) do not have the imminent electoral issues at stake Minnick does. But they do have issues in Congress, having gone from majority to minority status, in Congress and at the White House. Simpson, Risch and Crapo are more than experienced enough to know that times will arise when they will need Democratic help to get things done. And Minnick’s fellow Democrats, knowing how difficult keeping that Idaho House seat will be, will be inclined to help; Minnick may have leverage out of proportion to his freshman status in the House. The three Idaho Republicans doubtless understand that too.

What these three press releases seem to demonstrate is not just a coincident agreement on particular issues – they didn’t have to issue those joint press releases and statements – but an understanding that in some key ways, their interests may mesh through real cooperation. Some smart politics is going on here. (Maybe also, some productive politics.)

Ironically, turning this delegation bipartisan may turn it into the most internally cooperative Idaho congressional delegation in years.

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