U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth says she doesn’t understand all the fuss.
Since the Oklahoma City bombing, the Idaho Republican has been dogged by reporters from around the country who want to know about her ties to the militia movement.
“I’m still mystified about the connection the national media is trying to make,” Chenoweth said in a telephone interview Monday from Washington.
“My ties to the militia are the exact same ties as they are to all of my constituents.”
The attention has been prompted by the bombing suspect’s ties to the militia movement.
Several other members of Congress have received similar scrutiny. They include a Texas representative who received a fax from a militia group shortly after the bombing.
Despite the publicity, Chenoweth is moving ahead with her “sheriff-first bill,” which would require federal agents to obtain permission from the local sheriff before conducting law-enforcement activity in a county. She said concern over enforcement of the Endangered Species Act had prompted the legislation.
“All they have to do is check with the sheriff first,” she said.
Chenoweth said recent statements by a panelist on TV’s “Meet the Press” suggested she wants federal agents to “check their guns at the county border.”
“That is flat wrong,” she said.
Chenoweth doesn’t deny that militia members volunteered to work on her campaign last year. The Blackfoot, Idaho-based U.S. Militia Association has claimed credit for helping get her elected.
But Chenoweth says she never has addressed a militia group and has “no special ties” to any.
Militia groups have gained legitimacy in Idaho in part by having state officials - including Lt. Gov. Butch Otter, Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Anne Fox - speak at their gatherings.
Recent disclosures that the Militia of Montana was selling a videotape of a Chenoweth speech caught her by surprise, Chenoweth said. “I had no clue who they were or that they were using my tape.
“I’m very uncomfortable with it, and I wish that they had contacted me ahead of time.”
In February, Chenoweth found herself in a similar situation when a racist newspaper ran an article citing her campaign statement that white males are an endangered species as evidence that a “race-based campaign” can work. Chenoweth denounced the paper and its views but stood by her statement.
The Idaho congresswoman followed a hectic schedule of all-day hearings on the Endangered Species Act as the media storm was brewing around her last week. She sat for hours in hearings in California as reporters from across the nation clamored to talk to her.
“They were all saying, ‘I only want 10 minutes,”’ said Khris Bershers, Chenoweth’s press secretary.
Chenoweth has denounced the April 19 bombing.
“What happened in Oklahoma City was not politics,” she said. “It was murder.”
Chenoweth said she condemns any group that advocates violence, “whether it is with a gun or whether it is with bombs or whether it is with spiking trees.”
But, she said, “I don’t want to condemn anyone, whether it’s a government agency or the militia, with a broad brush. I just don’t believe in guilt by association.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT THEY’RE SAYING An April 27 column in the Wall Street Journal charged that U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth “shamelessly pandered to the right-wing crazies.” A Washington Post article said her proposed law requiring local sheriffs’ OK for federal agents’ actions is “strongly backed by militia organizations, some of which do not recognize the authority of any law enforcement agency above the county level.” An April 24 column in Newsday headlined “Just What’s Fanning These Flames?” criticized Chenoweth’s March hearing in Boise on the use of force by federal agencies. A Los Angeles Times article April 28 noted, “Chenoweth’s association with the militias may also become a campaign issue.”