BOISE – Freshman U.S. Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho’s 1st Congressional District faces a challenge in this year’s Republican primary from 35-year-old Iraq war veteran and party activist Matt Salisbury, of Nampa.
The winner of the GOP primary May 27 will face Democrat Walt Minnick in November. Minnick’s primary opponent, Larry Grant, dropped out of the race last month and endorsed Minnick, leaving Minnick uncontested in the Democratic primary for the seat that represents North Idaho.
Here’s a look at the two choices on the Republican ticket.
Bill Sali, incumbent
Sali, 54, is an attorney and longtime state representative known for championing anti-abortion legislation who narrowly won election to Congress in 2006 after winning a hotly contested six-way GOP primary with just 25.8 percent of the vote. Now, he’s an incumbent congressman with just one opponent in the primary.
Asked why he’s seeking a second term, Sali said, “While I recognize that my mental health is definitely in question for wanting to re-up here, you know what, we set out to do a particular job representing the people of the state of Idaho. We believe we’ve fulfilled an awful lot of that in the first term, done a lot of things we said we would do, and there’s much more work to be done. At the end of the day this is about handing off an America to my children and my grandchildren that is secure and free and prosperous. It’s going to take more than one term to get that done.”
Sali said he’s kept his promise to work on reining in federal spending by co-sponsoring a balanced budget amendment the first day he arrived in Congress, though it didn’t pass. “We’ve actually gone the wrong direction, but it hasn’t been due to my votes,” he said.
Sali also has targeted changes in how Congress does business and introduced a bill to require a separate vote on each subject addressed in a congressional bill. Though the measure hasn’t passed, Sali said he’s signed on about 30 co-sponsors.
Sali said he’s working on an immigration bill that “does not have any amnesty in it;” has participated in meetings about reforming Medicaid, though those didn’t progress to the point of legislative proposals; and is signing on to an energy bill that requires increases in domestic oil production.
“People have a known commodity with Bill Sali, and Matt Salisbury, I mean, most people don’t even know who he is, let alone what he’ll actually do in office,” Sali said. “We have proven abilities there. I think that’s a rare commodity in Congress, unfortunately.”
Matt Salisbury, challenger
Salisbury, 35, is a business consultant whose previous job with a manufacturing company was recently “outsourced” to Mexico. A member of the Idaho National Guard, Salisbury was on active duty for three years then was mobilized and served in Iraq for a year. Though this is his first run for major office, he’s long been a GOP activist, holds a political science degree and previously was elected precinct chairman of a Canyon County Republican precinct.
Asked why he’s running, Salisbury said, “I believe that Idaho deserves a choice and that I have something to add to the political process from my time in Iraq, from where the country’s going now, from what the people want. I’m providing a choice at least for Idaho Republicans in the primary.”
Salisbury said his top issues are the economy, immigration, health care and the war in Iraq – and that his positions aren’t far off from Sali’s, but his approach is different.
“My perspective, my experience is wholly different from his,” Salisbury said. “His skill sets and my skill sets are drastically different. … I think what’s needed in Congress is not somebody who’s been ingrained in politics for 16 years. I think we do need the practicality that comes with the corporate world and the military world. I think what I offer is very unique in this time, when America is going to be facing financial and military challenges in Iraq for the next 30 years.”
While Sali says his first term in Congress has been successful, Salisbury said, “That’s his opinion, and I guess I would say that I wouldn’t have any support if that were the case, if people believed that. I personally have a bunch of support from a bunch of Republicans who have a different opinion.”