Voters are tired of high taxes, and weary of low wages.
They fret about education and gun control. They talk about health care and debate whether hunters should bait bears.
But most of all, people throughout the 1st Congressional District are bothered by a sea of negativity that has washed over important issues on Tuesday’s election ballot.
Idaho Spokesman-Review reporters traversed the district last week to tap the mood of Gem State voters. They found an electorate apprehensive about money, frustrated by regulation and concerned about getting by.
Amid the parade of candidates and negative advertising, voters seemed united in one way: They’re desperately seeking truth - but don’t expect to find it.
Voter Ferdinand Jean-Blanc tuned out October’s attack-ad assault in disgust. “It’s getting carried away,” he said from his sewing machine repair shop in Harrison. “Usually the people throwing mud are up to their necks in it. Politicians, a lot of them, are as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.”
But voter skepticism hasn’t kept some politicians’ salvos from finding their mark.
Retiree Chet Blessing, 85, angrily watched television ads suggesting Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig let foreign countries dump nuclear waste in Idaho. The longtime Craig supporter waited for rebuttal advertisements. “I never saw one,” Blessing said. “And you know what that means … maybe it’s true. I just don’t know.”
“My concern is, why do people have to work so much to get by?” Karen Smith asked as she handed a bottle of lemon-flavored seltzer water to a customer at the Moon Time restaurant in Coeur d’Alene. “It’s wrong to have to work three jobs that each pay $5 an hour.”
A waitress by night, she also does golf course maintenance and landscaping by day. She dreams of getting a college degree, opening her own landscaping business, buying 10 acres and building a house.
Negative ads leave Smith troubled about the political landscape.
“I worry about politics because I don’t think enough people take the initiative to vote,” Smith said.
Sandi Farnsworth is equally disenchanted. As she waited for her husband at North Idaho College, Farnsworth said some candidates’ statements have left her confused.
“I don’t believe anything anybody says,” said Farnsworth, who returned to college to study communications when her children became teenagers. “I’m very skeptical - I think they are very selective in what they tell you.”
Farnsworth’s husband, Ron, is president of his union local so she leans toward Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate races.
Given Idaho’s relatively low wages, Ron Farnsworth wonders why conservatives do so well here. “I have real strong feelings against (Helen) Chenoweth and what she stands for.” He knows little about her opponent, Democrat Dan Williams.
Upstairs at NIC’s Hedlund Building, culinary arts majors Henry Milotz, Dave Behrens and Brandy Siegel discuss politics with music major Amaryah Engel-Ball. Most will vote in their first presidential election; most favor Bob Dole.
Yet, they favor Democrat Walt Minnick over incumbent Republican Larry Craig for the U.S. Senate because they see a vote for Craig bringing more nuclear waste to Idaho. Rep. Chenoweth is misunderstood and misrepresented by the media, they contend. The name of Chenoweth’s challenger never comes up.
Michelle Adams of Rathdrum is tired of politicians pointing the finger. “They’re all liars,” the HiCo Country Store employee said.
Clinton’s a fast-talker, she said. Dole is too old. “Is Perot running?” she asked. “I don’t think he’s so bad.”
She’s quit paying attention to Idaho races. Instead of arguments about nuclear waste, she wants talk about the economy. Her husband works days, she works nights. They don’t see each other, but their twins are in day-care for just a couple of hours each day.
“I’d be paying more for day-care than I make otherwise,” she said.
Robert Hudson, a 44-year-old Potlatch man, has voted for the winner in every presidential election since he was old enough to vote. With one exception: Four years ago he voted for Ross Perot.
“It was a protest vote,” said Hudson, a mustachioed, ponytailed Western art painter. This time, he’s voting for Bob Dole. And he’s hoping Democrats will stay home, lulled into complacency by poll results showing a big Bill Clinton lead.
“The Democrats want to put everyone under a mother hen,” he said. “We used to be a country of independent, hard-working people.”
Farther south on U.S. Highway 95, 28-year-old advertising saleswoman Heather Frazier was making her rounds in downtown Moscow.
She’s worried about the fate of Proposition One, the proposed cap on property taxes. Her husband is a custodian at the University of Idaho, where officials say the measure could leave the university with $30 million less, forcing large layoffs. Passage of Proposition One, she said, could cost her husband his job.
“We live check-to-check, that’s how a lot of the staff positions are,” said Frazier. “You can’t have a three-month backup in the bank, because it’s all spent on bills.”
Frazier said she’s annoyed by negative campaign ads. She and her husband watched the last presidential debate. Her verdict: “Dole tried to attack everything, and Clinton handled it smoothly.”
In nearby Friendship Square park, 36-year-old Wanda Burns was dropping off bill payments.
She supports Proposition One, saying it would be good for retirees living on fixed incomes. Education, she said, always finds a way to come up with money. When voting, Burns said, “I look for people with families. They tend to be more realistic and down-to-earth.”
On a weekday afternoon, two twentysomethings walked into the historic 1313 Club saloon in Wallace.
The couple sat down at the bar and glanced around at the mounted deer and elk heads. Fidgeting a little, they ordered coffee. After awhile, the couple asked the owner if he was hiring. Not now, he said. He would have to take their number.
Romney Simpson and Greg Maddy don’t have election favorites this year. Like other voters feeling abused by a battery of nasty TV ads, they’ve tuned out. Political promises don’t pay the bills, they said.
“I try not to listen to their slams,” Simpson said, lighting a cigarette.
“It’s pretty immature,” Maddy agreed.
None of the candidates address their problems: raising a child with another on the way, finding higher-paying jobs and struggling with debt.
Bill Goodwin, 62, worries “like a lot of people getting up in years” about being taxed out of his house.
Other issues also came to mind as he mulched leaves in the yard of his Kellogg home.
“As an Idahoan, I worry about hunting and gun control,” he said. “And if they’re going to do away with the Constitution.”
Goodwin still is deciding if he wants to vote to re-elect Helen Chenoweth and Larry Craig. “My biggest complaint is trying to figure out what everybody really stands for. They tell you what you want to hear.”
John Watson found a safe spot and sat on the roof of the new home he’s building for himself. He wants to get the shingles on before the snow hits and complains about delays caused by the building inspector, the cost of permits and taxes.
“I’m tired of taxes that keep going up and up and up and nothing getting done,” said the 43-year-old Sandpoint builder. “The roads aren’t getting fixed and education isn’t what it should be here. Sometimes I wonder what I’m paying for.”
Watson has built homes in Bonner County since 1976. He recalls when the building department had a couple of people issuing permits. Now the office is packed with employees and fees have skyrocketed along with property taxes.
“Roads and taxes are what I care about and the reason I vote,” Watson said. But this year he’s listening to candidates who want to cut government and ease regulations.
“I can’t wait to go vote,” he said. “And I can’t wait for the (political) ads to be over.”
Taxes are a hot button for Mike Duperault too. The 40-year-old works as a maintenance man at the Cedar Street Bridge for Coldwater Creek. He sees more and more of his check going to pay taxes.
“Property taxes are one-sixth of my house payment. That’s crazy,” Duperault said. He’s a flat tax proponent and said that’s why he will vote for Bob Dole on Tuesday.
“If everyone paid a straight 15 percent I think we would have a serious deficit reduction plan going.”
Matt Turnbull, a city of Sandpoint maintenance worker, says the whole political process doesn’t work.
“Every year we send senators and representatives to Boise and Washington but they only have one vote. I really don’t think we make much of a difference.”
Turnbull has heard candidates talk about stopping the nuclear waste shipments to southern Idaho. In the end, he said, the people of Idaho won’t have a say about whether that waste stays or goes.
Kindra Hansen was ready to vote a month ago. Particularly in Idaho’s Senate race, she said, “There’s a lot of dirt-slinging. You just want to turn the radio off.”
But Jim Laski, who works with Hansen at a Boise law firm, said, “I think some of them are very funny.” Laski, a newcomer to Boise from Pennsylvania, plans to vote for Bob Dole for president and Walt Minnick for the Senate. “I’m a Republican at heart,” he said. “A Republican from Pennsylvania is a Democrat in Idaho.”
In a downtown cafe, Ralph Nelson spooned his soup and wished the campaign this year could be more like the governor’s race two years ago. “In general, that was a good campaign,” he said. This year, “I think we’ve had way too much negative advertising.”
“If anything, I think it just makes the electorate more distrustful of their elected representatives,” he said. “You just tend to paint them with a broad brush.”
Although several Boiseans said they’re tired of negative ads in the Senate race, most said they hadn’t seen enough campaigning in the race between Chenoweth and Dan Williams for Congress to know where the candidates stand.
“I’m really not educated enough about either of them to make a decision at this point,” said Jim Grigsby, a banker in a gray plaid suit who moved back to Boise from Salt Lake City three months ago.
Grigsby said he’ll vote for the candidate, not the party. But the ads haven’t helped him make up his mind. “I think I tend to vote against those that are the mudslingers.”
Bob Bailey voted for Ronald Reagan for president in 1980 and 1984 and George Bush in 1988, but supported Bill Clinton in 1992. Williams was an easy pick for him this election.
“I have a problem with anyone who’s on the extreme side,” he said, leaning back on a padded bench at an espresso shop.
As a conservative Democrat, he likes candidates who look for common ground.
“I’m one of the people I think in the mainstream that really gets tired of hearing all the bashing. I find it insulting.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 5 Photos (2 Color)
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Craig Welch Staff writer Staff writers Kevin Keating, Ken Olsen, Rich Roesler, Betsy Russell and Ward Sanderson contributed to this report.