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Williams Delivers A Dare To Debate Challenger Calls Chenoweth An Embarrassment

Saying U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth is a national embarrassment, her only announced Democratic opponent is challenging her to a series of debates.

It’s a bold move for Dan Williams, a Boise attorney. Chenoweth is known for being outspoken and quick on her feet.

“I think voters will see a clear difference between a person of substance and a person who’s all rhetoric,” Williams said Thursday during a campaign stop in Coeur d’Alene. “I’m looking forward to every chance to debate her because I think the difference will be dramatic.”

Chenoweth is willing to debate whomever the Democrats nominate, her staff said.

Williams said Chenoweth gives Idaho a bad reputation as a home for the paranoid, the paramilitary fringe and extremists.

“She has reinforced, in the national press, all of the worst stereotypes about Idaho,” in particular by defending the militia movement after the Oklahoma City bombing, Williams said. “Unfortunately that reinforces the idea that Idaho is a hotbed of cranks and kooks.”

That makes it tough to attract tourists and it makes it tough for businesses to attract top executives, Williams said.

The national media has painted her as a poster child for extremists and it’s not accurate, Chenoweth insisted. Her voting record shows she thinks for herself, she said, pointing to statistics that show her less in step with the Conservative Coalition than any other member of Idaho’s Congressional delegation.

“I’m an individualist Republican,” she said.

Chenoweth issued a statement shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing condemning it as murder, said Khris Bershers, Chenoweth’s press secretary.

Sam Sherwood, head of the Blackfoot-based U.S. Militia, recently criticized Chenoweth for not following his group’s philosophy, Bershers added. In any case, “Helen’s position has always been and remains today, supportive for all peaceful individuals and for constitutional rights.”

Williams worked as staff counsel for former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus. He also worked on the late Frank Church’s U.S. Senate campaign as well as campaigning for Larry LaRocco, whom Chenoweth defeated in 1994. Church’s wife, Bethine, was on the campaign trail with Williams Thursday as she was with LaRocco in 1994.

Williams is staking out positions on nuclear waste, the transfer of public lands to the states, financing tax cuts with Medicare cuts, and the need for more federal funding for education as his main campaign issues.

If Chenoweth has her way, national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands will be transferred to the states, then sold to private interests, Williams said.

That means Idahoans won’t be able to fish and hunt here, he said.

If Chenoweth truly cared about Idaho, Williams said, she would have helped Gov. Phil Batt negotiate a better agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy for disposal of nuclear waste at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory near Idaho Falls.

“She didn’t make one peep, she didn’t lift one finger” and so Idaho is in danger of becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump, he said.

Chenoweth staff say none of that is true. Chenoweth helped get funding to prepare nuclear waste for its eventual shipment out of state to a permanent home, they say.

As for public lands, Chenoweth favors giving state or private interests control over one national forest and one BLM district for a few years and then assessing the benefits, press secretary Bershers said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo