Repealing the federal minimum wage. Declaring that life begins at fertilization. Easing gun restrictions, rolling back regulations on industry and amending the Constitution for everything from prayer in schools to English as a national language.
In two years in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth has co-sponsored legislation to do all of this and more. An Idaho Spokesman-Review analysis of the six bills she’s sponsored and the 213 she’s co-sponsored shows that Chenoweth has stuck to her conservative, pro-industry, anti-federal government line with vigor.
“People say to me, ‘You have done exactly what you said you would do, and what we sent you back there to do,”’ Chenoweth said.
Although few of the bills she pushed became law, Chenoweth said she and her Republican colleagues made “a good first start” toward a smaller federal government that’s shaped to fit her conservative outlook.
Many other freshman Republicans have moderated their views since the election, said Florence Heffron, a political science professor at the University of Idaho who teaches courses on Congress. “Closely as I can see, she hasn’t moderated at all.”
That could hurt Chenoweth in her re-election bid, Heffron said. Chenoweth faces a strong challenge from Dan Williams, a moderate Democrat and aide to former Gov. Cecil Andrus.
Chenoweth held a slim 7-point lead over Williams in a poll conducted several weeks ago for The Idaho Spokesman-Review and two television stations. Williams’ own poll showed he pulled ahead of her after her Monday announcement that she failed to disclose a $50,000 loan from a former client. One in a long string of missteps in reporting her personal and campaign finances, the lapse could prompt ethics charges or even prosecution.
But Chenoweth said she has no intention of moderating her views on issues, even if they’re portrayed as extreme and cost her votes.
“If it makes it more difficult for me to be re-elected, that’s a price that has to be paid for consistency, and I’m willing to pay it,” she said.
Chenoweth speaks with passion of her views on such issues as abortion.
“I have really given this careful thought,” she said slowly. “My position on right to life has been consistent. I am opposed to abortion in any case but for the imminent endangerment of the mother’s physical life, criminal rape, or criminal incest.”
The “criminal” part is important, she said.
“A woman who conceives of a child and then later decides to have it aborted and claims somebody raped her, and can’t prove that it’s criminal rape, then the question is, was she raped?”
Asked about cases where a rape may have occurred but gone unreported, Chenoweth said, with difficulty, “Legislators like to think that they have all wisdom, but sometimes you have to turn to the courts. … The courts are there to protect individuals from injustices.”
The bill that Chenoweth co-sponsored on the issue, declaring that the government should protect the right to life from the point of fertilization, makes no exceptions. She was one of 27 co-sponsors of Rep. Bob Dornan’s bill, which was introduced in May 1995.
Chenoweth’s name also appears as co-sponsor on 11 separate bills to amend the U.S. Constitution. Although she often speaks with reverence of the Constitution and the nation’s founders, Chenoweth said the changes are needed.
They include two measures to make it more difficult to become a U.S. citizen, three on term limits, two making it harder for Congress to pass tax increases, and others from abolishing the federal income tax to banning flag desecration.
The American people want such changes, Chenoweth said.
“Even term limits for federal judges have received a very positive reaction from coast-to-coast audiences that I have spoken before,” she said.
Easing regulations on business and industry is the most common target of legislation bearing Chenoweth’s name.
“The Congress must be accountable for the overly burdensome regulatory climate that we have in this country,” she said.
She sees federal agencies as standing in the way of such efforts for purely selfish reasons.
“Administrators in these agencies who are making a lot of money - and there are layers and layers and layers of administrators - don’t want to lose their cushy jobs.”
Chenoweth believes the marketplace, rather than the government, can bring about solutions on everything from wages to the environment. That’s why, while many in Congress debated whether the federal minimum wage should be raised, she cosponsored legislation to do away with it entirely.
Employers reward hard work with higher wages, she said.
“The problem is not people making a fair wage. The problem is too much government influence in the marketplace.”
The legislation that Chenoweth has been the main sponsor for is less sweeping, with the exception of a product liability reform package she helped push that eventually was vetoed.
Her two legislative victories, narrow measures to benefit farmers that passed as part of the Farm Bill, were classic examples of “hard-core constituency legislation,” Heffron said.
They benefit farmers in the 1st District. Chenoweth has been strongly allied with such groups as the Idaho Farm Bureau.
“In a way, that’s a form of porkbarrel politics,” Heffron said. But it’s not inconsistent with Chenoweth’s overall message.
Unsuccessful measures to deny bonuses to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and to sharply increase penalties for tree-spiking had similar appeal among Chenoweth’s core supporters, Heffron said.
This week, Chenoweth’s bill to allow people to sue over their economic losses from the Endangered Species Act will come up for a subcommittee hearing.
Heffron predicted that the bill won’t go far, but will appeal to Chenoweth’s core constituency: People who share her views on the federal government, the environment and social issues.
“I think she has always been very candid about where she stands,” Heffron said.
But the 1996 election, coming in a presidential election year, likely will draw more voters than the election that swept Chenoweth into office in 1994. That means the electorate will be less dominated by “true believers,” Heffron said, and more reflective of the views of the population as a whole.
But Chenoweth isn’t worried. “I think that the one thing that Idaho voters expect of their elected officials is that they’re very clear about where they stand,” she said. “Whether they like us or not, they will know what we’re going to be doing.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CHENOWETH’S RECORD Rep. Helen Chenoweth has sponsored six bills: H. Amdt. 573, an amendment to prohibit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from using its funds for employee merit pay increases or bonuses. Introduced July 19, 1995. Failed on 111-317 vote. H.R. 2093, a bill to specifically include seed crops in non-insured crop disaster assistance program. They had been included earlier but left off in recent reforms. Introduced July 21, 1995. Later became law as part of the Farm Bill. H.R. 2263, a bill to require farmers to be compensated if they lose money because of U.S. trade embargoes. Introduced Sept. 6, 1995. Later became law as part of the Farm Bill. H.R. 2094, a bill to increase penalties for tree spiking, including prison terms of up to 40 years. Offenders also could be sued, and the federal government would have to reimburse local authorities for costs of investigation or prosecution. Was included in an appropriations bill that was vetoed by the president. H.R. 3862, a bill giving any person with an economic interest that’s directly or indirectly harmed by a designation of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act ability to bring a citizen’s lawsuit. Introduced July 22 with 49 cosponsors, referred to House Committee on Resources. H.R. 10, product liability reform and reform of private securities litigation. Introduced Jan. 4, 1995 with three other sponsors and 144 co-sponsors, two of whom later withdrew. Would have limited damages in lawsuits over defective products, made such suits harder to win, and made it more difficult to sue over securities fraud. Another version of the bill passed, but was vetoed. Chenoweth also has co-sponsored 213 bills. They include: 29 bills seeking to deregulate business and industry 23 seeking to reform Congress or balance the budget 22 providing tax breaks 13 on international relations, including one to pull the United States out of the United Nations 12 anti-immigration bills, including measures making it more difficult to become a U.S. citizen and making English the national language 12 on health care, most giving the industry more latitude, but two requiring Medicare to cover additional items, such as certain antibiotics or chiropractic procedures Eight bills easing restrictions on guns, including repealing the Brady Law and lifting restrictions on assault weapons Eight seeking to downsize government, including privatizing the post office, eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, the Education Department, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Commerce Eight bills on social issues, including banning the spending of public funds to promote homosexuality and “protecting the right to life of each born and preborn human person in existence at fertilization.”
Source: U.S. Congress, staff research
Source: U.S. Congress, staff research
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