Jeff Alltus stands in shirt sleeves, arms crossed, in a tense huddle in a hallway of the state capitol.
“Oh, man,” he mutters.
Alltus, a Hayden Republican, has been near the center of a continuing storm of controversy all legislative session long. Asked what kind of session it’s been for him, he says, “I think I have an ulcer. Actually the whole session has just been war.”
From abortion to term limits, domestic violence to campaign rules, Alltus has taken a high-profile role. With his casual turns of speech and wholehearted dedication to his causes, he sometimes rubs other legislators the wrong way.
“He’s always been really aggressive on all the issues he really cares about,” Rep. Debbie Field, R-Boise, said. “I’m not used to people who are aggressive, and sometimes we’ve clashed over his method. It’s just a different method than I use.”
Alltus maintains that he ruffles feathers because he really reads all the bills - and doesn’t hesitate to object to them.
“I sometimes end up debating against bills because I’ve read them,” he said, “whereas maybe some other people who haven’t had the time to read that particular bill might have thought it was perfectly wonderful.
“It doesn’t necessarily endear you to everyone all the time.”
Alltus, an insurance agent and dedicated Christian, also speaks out strongly about his belief in legislating morality.
“A lot of the things we do here are moral issues,” he told the House during debate on anti-abortion legislation he co-sponsored. “Who decides moral issues if it isn’t in this body right here? … Do we want just everyone to live any way in their life that they want? No, we want to have moral direction.”
Next year, he said, he hopes to co-sponsor legislation on covenant marriage. The plan would give couples the option of choosing regular marriage, or a new version that wouldn’t allow divorce except for proven grounds.
“It really is the type of legislation that helps keep the divorce rate down,” Alltus said.
He said he also plans to support legislation requiring “equal time for all major theories of the origin of man in public schools.”
Although he won’t sponsor the creationism bill, Alltus said he thought it was a good idea.
“I think information is good. … I don’t think you need to promote one over the other. I think you just present the information.”
In heated debate this year on legislation to upgrade U.S. Highway 95, Alltus was the only one whose comments drew hisses from opponents of the bill.
Alltus’ style in the Legislature is passionate, but he doesn’t strive for the flowery speech of some politicians.
Last week, when he introduced former Kootenai County political candidate Tom Daugherty on the House floor, he identified Daugherty as one who had traveled from Coeur d’Alene and “who is, uh, a guy that I know.”
Rather than working on oratory, Alltus said he tries to focus on policy.
“It’s just a lot of work, and I take it real seriously,” he said. “If anything, I’m too serious.”
Alltus said he thinks he’s gained more respect from other legislators this year, partly just from working with them over time in committees.
Last month, he agreed to make a motion to introduce a health-care bill sponsored by Rep. Margaret Henbest, D-Boise, even though he strongly opposed the measure and later voted to kill it. It would have required health insurers to cover oral contraceptives if they cover other prescriptions.
In return, Henbest pushed to introduce one of Alltus’ measures.
To Dennis Mansfield, director of the Idaho Family Forum and a controversial figure at the Legislature this year for his strong lobbying for abortion restrictions, Alltus’ performance this year was impressive.
“He was a hero, there’s no question in my mind,” Mansfield said. “He stood up, he spoke out, and I think he stood tall.”
Mansfield’s group proposed the abortion bill that Alltus co-sponsored.
House Speaker Mike Simpson said he thought Alltus, who is in his second term, had “come a long way” since his first term.
With time in the Legislature, Simpson said, “You learn that you’re not always 100 percent right. Sometimes opposing views have at least a kernel of truth in them.”
Rep. Ron Crane, R-Caldwell, said he believes Alltus is improving as a legislator.
Crane, the deeply conservative House State Affairs Committee chairman, said when he was a new legislator 16 years ago, he was more confrontational than he might be today.
“My core values and beliefs are still the same. It’s just style that’s changed,” Crane said.
“I think style is oh so important. The way you say something is almost as important as what you say. Jeff’s learning that.”
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