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Souza and the Senate

malloy CHUCK

In Idaho

When Sen. Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene begins her first session next month, she says she plans to keep her head down, stay quiet and not make waves.

“That will probably last about 15 minutes,” she said laughing.

Souza, who has been a constant thorn to the side of public officials in Coeur d’Alene, hardly fits the profile of “quiet and shy.” Her personality is more suited to leaping tall buildings and tearing down trees – in the name of truth, justice and ridding the planet of political corruption. Two years ago, she spearheaded the unsuccessful efforts to recall Mayor Sandi Bloem and three members of the Coeur d’Alene City Council – essentially painting them and Lake City Development Corporation (the city’s urban renewal agency) as crooks who were robbing from the taxpayers for the benefit of political cronies. Souza’s relentless fury especially was stinging to Bloem, who is more like the Lake City’s favorite grandma than Al Capone.

This year, Souza experienced defeat and victory in the political arena – getting trounced in a mayor’s race, then defeating longtime Sen. John Goedde in last May’s Republican primary election. Souza was a clear beneficiary of Idaho’s closed primaries, which tends to favor more conservative candidates.

Now, this community gadfly – who built her name by making noise and stepping on toes – steps into a different world. Souza now is part of the political establishment. Complaints and late-night phone calls, which go with the territory of an elected official, will now be directed at her.

The target is on her back, but as Souza sees it, that’s nothing new. A person doesn’t go after the mayor, three council members and an established agency such as LCDC without getting some bruises along the way. She says her attacks have never been meant to be personal and adds that some people who meet her say, ‘You’re actually nice.’ That’s a hard line to swallow for the public officials who have been subjected to Souza’s wrath.

Strangely, her critics are not talking openly about Souza going to the Senate. Bloem says she’s “the wrong person to ask.” Former councilman Mike Kennedy, who was subject to the recall effort, said, “I don’t have anything constructive to add to the conversation. As a citizen, I hope she does a good job and I wish her well.”

But her history as a conservative activist raises questions about how effective she will be in the Legislature. Politically, she’s polls apart from moderate Senate leadership and influential members such as Sens. Dean Cameron of Rupert and Shawn Keough of Sandpoint. Can she work with them? At what point will she be painting moderate colleagues with the same broad brush as Bloem and Kennedy?

Souza says she’s going to the Legislature to listen, learn, do a lot of reading and represent her constituents from District 4.

“People will think what they want and I’m not going on a crusade to make them like me,” she said. “I didn’t run for this office to fill out my resume in life. I feel comfortable with what I’ve done and who I am. The reason I did this is because real, regular people need to be involved in government.”

Souza has plenty of friends going in – including Rep. Kathy Sims (also of District 4) and Rep. Vito Barbieri of Dalton Gardens.

“She’s well educated, has a good grasp of the issues,” said Sims, who worked with Souza on the recall effort.
Barbieri thinks Souza will “fit in nicely” in the Senate and work well with the leadership team and some of the more conservative members. “She’s personable, analytical and darn intelligent,” Barbieri said.

Souza, as with Sims and Barbieri, takes the conservative side on most issues, but bristles at the “tea party” label.

“I’d be happy to take that label if you tell me what it means,” she said. “Does it mean I am racist? No, I am not. Does it mean I am radical religious and feel everybody is going to hell? Do I hate kids, hate education, hate development and hate businesses? No.”

But if “tea party” means a desire for a smaller government, she said, “OK, I’ll take it.”

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