House Speaker Newt Gingrich scratched Boise from his cross-country campaign fund-raising tour Wednesday because Rep. Helen Chenoweth didn’t vote the way he wanted last week.
The real reason behind the cancellation left Chenoweth’s re-election campaign scrambling to revise its earlier explanation - that Gingrich was scrapping his entire trip West because of budget discussions with the White House and East Coast airports closed by snow.
Neither was true.
The budget negotiations were recessed Tuesday. Gingrich left Washington, D.C., and campaigned Wednesday for other members of Congress in Wyoming and Washington state.
“We got some bad information and we ran with it,” Chenoweth said Wednesday.
Idaho’s freshman Republican congresswoman praised Gingrich on Tuesday as someone who “had his priorities in order because balancing the budget is much more important than politics as usual.”
She was surprised by the real, highly political reason for the snub. She learned it not from Gingrich or his staff but from the news media.
Arriving at her office Wednesday morning, Chenoweth was handed a copy of an Associated Press story about Gingrich’s fund-raising swing that noted the speaker would skip a stop next week in Indiana for two congressmen. Like Chenoweth, both had voted against a proposal last Friday to send furloughed federal employees back to work.
Gingrich spokesman Tony Blankley said the GOP leader had to “prioritize” his appointments and those who voted with the speaker on the bill got preference.
Chenoweth said she had her staff check with Blankley to see if that statement was correct. The speaker’s staff replied that it was.
Retribution for a vote is very much politics as usual, Chenoweth acknowledged. It surprised her, though, because she knows of several times when Gingrich bucked the House GOP leadership on votes when he was a member.
Although she doesn’t like Gingrich’s decision, Chenoweth said it doesn’t diminish her respect for him as her leader in Congress. She sticks by her vote against sending furloughed employees back to work because, she said, the bill didn’t have money for them to actually run the government.
“It would not have been a good vote for the West,” she said. “It did not give the Forest Service operating money to proceed with salvage logging or give the (Bureau of Land Management) money to process grazing permits.”
The same day, the House also voted temporary funds to run the government in return for a balanced-budget plan from President Clinton. Chenoweth voted yes on that bill.
Gingrich’s visit was to have featured a speech, with tickets at $100 per person, and a private VIP briefing at $1,000 per ticket.
Campaign officials said they are willing to offer refunds but hope most people will hold onto the tickets, which will be honored at a future event.
Chenoweth said she still hopes Gingrich will make a trip to Idaho later this month, and has received assurances he will try.
Some of those assurances, however, come from the Republican National Congressional Campaign Committee, the same organization that told her Gingrich was cancelling because of budget talks and snow.
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