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Back to Pocatello

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Most residents of the Gate City are familiar with the expression used by journalist, author and Oregon politician Richard Neuberger to describe the phenomena that characterized many of the members of Congress, who, once defeated, or opting to retire, stayed inside the Beltway never to leave the Nation’s capitol.

Many who travel to D.C., especially those coming from the west, almost immediately sense the surrealism that pervades the place. Too many people frenetically rushing about, caught up in their own self-importance no matter how small or trivial their little piece of power is. Then there are the 24-year-old still wet behind the ears staff for members of the House and Senate, who not too deceptively allow how their “horse” will be unable to meet with a group despite the meeting having been scheduled months before.

You see, the President has just called the member down to the White House, or there’s a special vote, but don’t worry, it is really staff who run the office (wink, wink), so you’re talking to the right person, the aide pretentiously proclaims.

The city is all about power, money, greed, pecking orders, influence-peddling misnamed as lobbying, and that lovely phrase used by attorneys—billable hours. The classic example is a Hill staffer who has moved down to K Street to lobby, after a decent interval, former colleagues who know how the game is played becausae they too want to cash in on their connections.

The former aide bumps into his old Boss who says hello and moves on after 30 seconds. The ex-staffer rushes back to the office and immediately bills ten of the firm’s clients $450 (his hourly charge) each though the meeting was only a minute.

Its all perfectly legal and after all, everyone does it. Even a decent former congressman I knew once billed an Indian tribe $10,000 a month for one luncheon with a minor official from the Environmental Protection Agency. They had a “retainer agreement” in which the client pays to have the former congressman on “stand by” in case he may be needed. Most normal folk cannot get back home fast enough. There’s a cost for this greed and lack of ethics, though. It also may help to explain why many Americans are looking for an outsider to come into that surreal world to restore sanity and common sense.

Many have lost any confidence in or trust for those who live and work in the greater D.C. area. The irony is that many folks who go to D.C. either as a member of Congress, or a staffer, or an appointee to some post, get trapped by the high salaries. When they start to explore returning home they realize they cannot afford it.

They may sincerely want to return, but everything from private schools to reading the Washinton Post and the New York Times to start their day keeps them in place. Don’t forget either the parties in Georgetown and the easy sex that underlies “business” relationships.

So what about Idaho’s Congressional delegation? When Neuberger wrote the essay for the Saturday Evening Post in the early 50s he reportedly was looking for a former senator in Pocatello and was asking about. An agent for Union Pacific looked at him and uttered the phrase “those fellows never come back to Pocatello.”

Well, it turns out that the agent should not have used the word never.

Not double-counting those who were congressmen then senators, nor those still in office, since 1946 of the 33 members of Congress from Idaho slightly less than half, 15, have returned home to Idaho while 18 have remained.

Despite Neuberger’s catchy title, in the case of Idaho, many did return to Pocatello. Sadly, Richard Neuberger was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1954 from Oregon but never had the opportunity to decide whether to return home. He died at the age of 47 in 1959 while still in office.

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