Rep. Larry Watson carries his Democratic philosophies in a brown bag.
“I’m a lunch-bucket Democrat that represents all our roots in labor,” the Wallace native said.
Watson is part of Idaho’s small handful of Democrats. But he is the first to admit he strays from the liberal crevasses of Boise and Sun Valley.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t want clean air and water, but we still want jobs and access to natural resources,” Watson said, trying to sum up his constituents’ beliefs.
To Watson, the residents of District 4 are top priority.
Loss of mining and timber jobs have hurt the Silver Valley.
Watson sits at his cluttered desk in the final days of the 1998 legislative session. His tanned face shows signs of weariness as he explains how residents are hard-pressed to develop a new economic base.
“We’re trying to figure out if we still want to be a resource-based district or struggle into tourism or cross into some other kind of industry that is not dependent on natural resources,” Watson said. “Or find a way to do all three.”
Watson said he plays defense in the legislative process.
“It gets back to just being happy that I’m taking care of the folks at home,” he said. “It’s more than passing some major legislation, it’s to protect them from anything else.”
The freshman admits he spent his first term learning the process.
“I think I was fat, dumb and happy last year,” he said with a toothy grin. “I had no idea what was going on.”
He shyly laughed about his naive notion that lobbyists, with $100 bills hanging from their silk suits, would stalk him in the halls.
Watson’s second session has proved more fruitful.
His background as the Shoshone County chief deputy tax assessor has helped him plow a niche. Watson sits on the local government, business and revenue and taxation committees. And lawmakers are beginning to look to him for advice.
He describes himself as politically moderate and socially quiet. But he beamed as he tells of a recent compliment.
A lobbyist told him that “because of these things and my background I had everyone’s attention when I did speak up in the tax committee,” he said.
Watson also has the attention of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which represents the business community.
The pro-business association is not known for its large Democratic following.
President Steve Ahrens keeps a rough tab on how lawmakers vote on issues important to his association. In an unofficial tally, Ahrens said Watson voted against the group only once.
But he rejected the notion that Watson’s record is abnormal for a Democrat.
After a long pause Ahrens said, “You know in Idaho, both parties are generally very supportive of the business community. And that’s an honest statement. We find in Idaho the Democrats tend to have a higher voting record then in other states.”
Watson said his voting record on business-related issues reflects his district.
“It comes back to it’s a Democratic district but a bit fiscally conservative,” he said. “I think how I do things reflects that.”
No matter the issue - from business and education to resources - Watson said he consults with his voters.
“I start calling folks at home and that’s where I ultimately make my decision,” he said.
Besides vying for a second term, Watson is positioning himself for a seat on an interim committee charged with studying the state’s gnarled liquor license laws.
“That’s an issue I really think needs to be taken on and fixed,” he said. “I’d certainly like to be a part of that process so it’s not totally influenced by south and east Idaho.”
Sitting back in his chair, Watson sighed about the work load in the final days of the session. His body seemed to relax as he recited his eagerness to leave Boise’s treeless foothills for the steep mountain slopes of North Idaho.
“I thought if I went past Fourth of July or Lookout Pass I’d fall off the end of the world,” he said with a chuckle.