If former Idaho Sen. Steve Symms had played his cards right over the last 30 years, and kept running for re-election, he could still be in the Senate today.
And why not? Symms is 83 years old, just a few years older than President Biden, his mind is sharp, and he holds strong with his conservative views. He remains plugged into politics through his longtime association with a Washington-based lobbying group.
“My life is pretty simple,” Symms says. “I spend a lot of time with my wife, Loretta, children and grandchildren.”
Back in the day, supporters loved his brash style. Symms was elected to Congress in 1972 when he was in his early 30s and became a giant killer eight years later, riding the Ronald Reagan revolution and knocking out longtime Democratic Sen. Frank Church. Six years later, he defeated Gov. John Evans in another tight race.
But that election was the beginning of the end of his political career. “After the election, I said that one good thing was that I won’t have to do this again – and people were shocked,” Symms said. “I told them that I was going to do my job in the Senate, then get out.”
There were things he liked about the job, for sure. “Campaigning was like a sporting event to me – I loved it.” He also enjoyed the friendly banter with political reporters, such as myself during my time at the Post Register. He was one of the more accessible, and least-guarded politicians I worked with.
“A lot of people who serve like to attend meetings and talk with heads of state. They thrive on it. To me, that was torture. I was so glad when I wasn’t running again,” he said. “I also thought it would be good to give someone else a chance to serve. I’ve known others who have been in so long that they can’t quit – that’s what happens to some people.”
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo appears to be at that point of no return, with his life revolving around Capitol Hill and the Washington Beltway. His wife, Susan, who never followed him to Washington since his election to Congress in 1992, spends much of her time with family in Utah.
So, coming “home” for Crapo means staying in hotel rooms in Lewiston, Coeur d’Alene or wherever he might be. And with him having one of the safest Senate seats in the country, there’s no reason for extended stays in stuffy hotel rooms – or attending things like Republican Party Central Committee meetings, which is practically a requirement for at least some office holders.
But Crapo is far beyond needing to cozy up to a GOP central committee. He has a $5 million bankroll to scare away any serious opposition, and state party leaders surely will support him over any Democrat that runs.
Crapo is not wired the same as Symms. Crapo seems to thrive on the minutia of Senate business, and less on the mixing and mingling that go with campaigns. From my end, it’s next to impossible to line up an interview with Crapo – and I’ve known him for almost 40 years.
It’s not surprising that his re-election announcement came via press release; for him it’s standard operating procedure. He has a small army of writers who churn out releases highlighting the senior senator’s accomplishments for bankers, farmers, rural schools. If he holds a news conference, it’s with fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill complaining about Biden’s policies.
There’s no spontaneity with Crapo. It’s all controlled.
But again, with a safe seat, there’s no reason for him to change. Republican leaders love him because he doesn’t make waves, and his congenial nature makes it easy for Democrats to work with him on bipartisan issues. Symms includes himself in the “I like Mike” club.
“I think he’s a good senator – a Harvard law graduate and smart as hell,” said Symms. “From what I see, he has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate. He’s a guy who can work with other people, knows how the game is played and what to do.”
So, will Crapo still be in the Senate at age 83? My guess is that he’ll be there well into his 80s, assuming that his health is sound.
He really has nowhere else to go.
ctmalloy@outlook. Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org