Republican Congressman Helen Chenoweth is surprised at the controversy she has generated during a year in Washington that has been marked by her conservatism, partisanship and outspokenness.
But as she closed out the first half of her initial term in Congress, Chenoweth says she remains as committed as ever to the agenda of political revolution embodied in the “Contract With America.”
“Eighty-three percent of the calls and letters to my office say we should stay the course,” she said.
A self-described champion of private property rights and reduced central government, Chenoweth has drawn national attention for her support of the militia movement - although she has denounced any associated violence - and her objections to the control federal officials exert over Western land, water and even in her view the culture of the West.
But she blames much of that notoriety on a national media she contends have preconceived notions about what a Western politician should be.
“It was the national media’s reaction to a female representative who is there to pitch hard for the Western way of life,” she said.
And her attack has not been limited to the national media. She has accused reporters in Idaho of blowing out of proportion her failure to disclosure for over eight months that she obtained an unsecured $40,000 loan for her campaign from West One Bank.
Idaho Democrats contend she violated federal campaign finance regulations and have asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate what Chenoweth at one point described as a minor ethics violations.
But the veteran political operative, who has been true to her rhetoric during the 1994 campaign, has not let any of the controversy distract her from the issues she sees as critical to the nation, and right now the preeminent one is balancing the federal budget in seven years.
She has repeatedly blamed President Clinton for the financial problems looming for federal workers whose next paychecks will be shorted because of the impasse between Democrats and Republicans that has partially shut down the federal government for more than two weeks.
Working through the holiday weekend to find a resolution, leaders on both sides remained committed to making sure federal workers are paid in full once the gridlock ends.
But Chenoweth recently seemed to ignore that public commitment and accused the president of abandoning an agreement that essential federal workers be paid in full for their work during the shutdown.
“Whether you like big government or not, these people are being jerked around,” she said. “The administration has abandoned its agreement on essential workers being paid.”
She claimed Clinton has created the crisis by vetoing key budget bills sent him by the congressional Republican majority. Clinton said those bills were unacceptable because of the damage they would have done to programs such as Medicare.
And Chenoweth has refused to say that the president’s high approval ratings with the public since the budget battle began reflects voter dissatisfaction with the stand the GOP has taken.