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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

An Idaho political story extraordinaire

The recent Idaho Supreme Court decision that brought former seven-term Idaho Congressman George Hansen back into the news - he lost an appeal to get out of repaying hundreds of thousands of dollars to an Idaho couple he swindled in an investment scheme - recalled a remarkable chapter in Idaho's political history. The former congressman, now 79, retired and living with wife Connie in Pocatello, served time in federal prison for a multimillion-dollar check kiting scheme in the 1990s, after previously going to federal prison for four counts of violating federal ethics laws by falsifying financial disclosure forms while serving in Congress. A crusading congressman who railed against the Internal Revenue Service and made a unilateral trip to Iran in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate for the freedom of American hostages, Hansen has long contended that the government was out to get him. In 1984, seven months after his conviction on the ethics charges - which later was overturned by a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision that modified the law - Hansen narrowly lost his last re-election bid by just 170 votes.

"George Hansen was one of those guys - a really engaging personality, a very effective campaigner, and had some loyalists to the very end despite his financial difficulties and legal problems," said Boise State University political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby. Hansen, the only sitting congressman ever convicted under the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, lost one of the closest congressional elections in state history at a time when he was on his way to prison. Nine years later, when U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge sentenced Hansen to four years in prison for 45 counts of bank fraud in 1993, the judge said he was stunned that many of Hansen's victims still supported him - even though they were owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. "I've never seen that kind of blind allegiance," the judge declared.

Hansen, a Republican, was first elected to Idaho's 2nd District congressional seat in 1964 and served two terms, before losing a challenge to Democratic Sen. Frank Church. He won election to the House seat again in 1974, and won re-election four times before losing to Democrat Richard Stallings in 1984. Hansen's wife, Connie, ran for the seat in 1986, but came in second in a five-way GOP primary, losing to Idaho Falls Sen. Mel Richardson. Stallings held the seat until he left it in 1992 to run for the U.S. Senate, losing to Republican Dirk Kempthorne, who later served as Idaho's governor.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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