The Statehouse Reel Sandpoint Legislator Hooked On Fishing, Lawmaking
Each morning Rep. John Campbell dons his best suit and tie and heads for Idaho’s hottest winter fishing hole - the state Legislature.
For this Sandpoint Republican, there’s no difference between fishing and politics.
“You can catch the big ones if you chummy them just right,” Campbell said, thrusting his arm into the air to reel in his imaginary catch from the depths of the House floor.
But today, Campbell’s thoughts aren’t focused on rainbow trout or kamloops. Instead, his big, blue eyes sparkle with thoughts of Tuesday’s meeting of the House Resources and Conservation Committee.
Water quality, land use and property rights issues rev Campbell’s motor.
“I’m a Republican, but I’m fairly moderate,” the first-term lawmaker says. “But on some things I’m fire and brimstone.”
And occasionally this flashy side causes Campbell to erupt with eyebrow-raising comments.
Two weeks ago at a joint resources committee hearing on wolf reintroduction, Campbell offered a solution that raised the roof.
“If in fact DNA cloning and sperm banks are good enough for humans, why aren’t they good enough for grizzlies and wolves?” he asked. “I still believe if frozen sperm is good for people, it’s good for wolves. I think the Endangered Species Act has gone too far.”
Sometimes Campbell’s statements strike other legislators as bizarre.
Seatmate Rep. Twila Hornbeck, R-Grangeville, insists Campbell has tamed in the last few years.
Campbell winks at Hornbeck and shakes his ruddy face in denial.
One bill Campbell is pushing would prevent outfitters and guides from selling their licenses as a commodity.
“No plumber can sell his license.” Campbell says sternly. “No electrician can sell their license. No nurse can sell their license. You can never sell your professional abilities and your standards.”
Campbell stops and whips out his wallet. Searching through layers of folded papers, including his 1968 stock car club membership, he eventually produces a faded outfitter’s license.
“To me that’s an honor,” he says holding out the 1973 permit that allowed him to operate a charter fishing boat on Lake Pend Oreille.
Backing Bonner County schools is also important to Campbell.
He often ribs the school board and the district’s policies. He uses his legislative position to push for state funds for education and maintenance programs.
Again, the fishing metaphor: “I like the battle,” Campbell says.
However, during his 62 years, Campbell has done more than put worms on a hook.
He’s logged, worked construction and spent time as an aircraft engine mechanic. He also served seven years in the Air Force.
Today, Campbell labels himself as semi-retired.
Writing an outdoors column for the Bonner County Daily Bee, remodeling his Cedar Street home and manufacturing his “Big Jack” fishing lures keep him busy when he’s not walking the Statehouse halls. He also helps raise his 7-year-old granddaughter, Samantha.
But Campbell, a Sandpoint native, always has time to sip coffee with his constituents.
“I spend a lot of time in the coffee shops rallying with the old troops,” he says. “You’d be surprised by the pearls of wonder you get.”
Each Friday during the session, Campbell strips off his suit, puts on his “grubbies” and boards a plane to Bonner County.
Dressed in his characteristic fishing duds, Campbell is a familiar sight at Harold’s IGA and the 5th Avenue. And he’s usually heard talking about fishing - whether it’s catching a mackinaw or netting a new law.
“I get more heat about giving away a secret on a fishing hole than I do if I voted Communist,” Campbell says with a laugh. “Hunting and fishing is the main stroke for my folks.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo