Stallings’ problem

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

The other day in Twin Falls, former 2nd District Congressman Richard Stallings approached a 24-year-old waitress and talked about this year’s congressional campaign. As any good politician, he saw an opportunity to win over a potential voter. What she saw was a man who was old enough to be her great-grandfather, which presents a problem for Stallings.

His mind is sharp, he has good health overall, but the 73-year-old Stallings looks every bit of his age – which does little to attract 20-somethings who already are detached from politics. The waitress was just more than a year old when Stallings left Congress in 1993. There’s a whole generation of new voters who were not even born when Stallings served in Congress.

He has other challenges that are even more daunting. Rep. Mike Simpson, seeking his ninth term, is fresh off a resounding victory over tea party candidate Byron Smith in the primary election – proving the 2nd District is not the bastion for conservatism as it was during George Hansen’s heyday in Congress. Simpson’s membership on the Appropriations Committee gives him clout and access to hefty campaign donations. Stallings has little more than a past history and around $17,000 in the bank.

“I have no illusions,” Stallings said. “When I ran before (1984) and was running against someone who had four felony convictions and I barely won. That is not the case now.”

But Stallings says he sees a “path to victory” by pushing for raising the federal minimum wage and immigration reform – issues that tend to attract women and Latinos. He welcomes support from disgruntled conservatives who are bruised from the primary campaign. As for everybody else, Stallings has two major platforms:

1. Throw the bums out.

2. All Republicans are bums – especially House Speaker John Boehner and Simpson, who is one of Boehner’s leading lieutenants. Stallings thinks any Democrat, including California’s Nancy Pelosi, could do a better job leading the House.

“I tell people that if you like Congress – and only about 12 percent of the people do – then stay with Simpson, because he will give you two more years of nothing,” Stallings said. “I am running against the worst Congress in the nation’s history. Simpson is one of the leaders of that Congress and he should be held accountable.”

Stallings is running on the premise that people are tired of gridlock – and that’s just within the Republican Party. He also says people also are tired of partisan politics and government shutdowns.

“I have said that Simpson is the strongest member of the delegation, but that isn’t setting the bar too high,” Stallings said. “Idaho has the worst delegation in Congress.”

Stallings says he offers an alternative.

“People remember me pretty fondly,” he said. “I served with dignity before, represented the people well and it’s time to get back with that kind of representation.”

As Stallings sees it, Simpson is hitching himself to an ineffective House speaker and one part of a fractured Republican Party.

“Simpson is a coward who does not have the backbone to stand up for what’s right,” Stallings said. “He’s afraid of the tea party, and I have no such fear.”
Getting businesses behind raising the minimum wage is an uphill battle for Stallings. But he thinks he can find plenty of support elsewhere.

“The thought that raising the minimum wage would hurt business is hogwash,” he said. “If you give people $5,000 more per year, they would have buying power. You’d stimulate the economy and it would raise 176,000 Idahoans out of poverty while saving the government tons of money in food stamps and subsidies. It would be an easy answer to a crisis that is hurting people. How Simpson and his colleagues can sit back and enjoy the fat-cat life of a congressman while deliberately hurting people is outrageous.”

Give Stallings credit. He’s putting his name out there and making plenty of noise about the political mess in Washington, D.C. He may not raise a lot of money and the odds of defeating an entrenched incumbent are against him. But being a former four-term congressman, by itself, makes him a formidable challenger.

Now, if he can only convince that waitress and others of her age that he’s more than a great-grandfather figure …

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