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Eye On Boise

Crapo criss-crosses state, holding more than 100 town-hall meetings

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is in the midst of an unprecedented series of open town-hall meetings across the state of Idaho, hitting towns large and small, talking about the national debt and taking questions. “We started last October,” Crapo said. “It really lends itself, I think, to a more intimate discussion.” He’s held the sessions in towns as small as Moyie Springs, Craigmont and Ucon; and as large as Boise, Meridian, Hayden and Coeur d’Alene. He’s been to Iona, Ammon, Kuna, Elk River and Athol.

In April, Legistorm announced that Crapo had held more town meetings in 2015 than any member of Congress, with the tally then at 38 for the calendar year; he’s now held more than 115 since October, with a total of 154 scheduled through September.

Crapo said he used to just hold a few town meetings a year in larger population centers, which often drew 300 to 500 people. At the small-town gatherings, he more typically draws around 30. Both types are valuable, Crapo said. “I’ve had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from the people.” As a side benefit, the longtime GOP senator from Idaho Falls said he’s even gotten to some small communities he’d never visited before. “I actually thought I’d been everywhere in Idaho,” he said. “I’m meeting a lot of new people and having a tremendous opportunity to learn.”

The seed for the effort germinated at a staff meeting last fall. “I said to staff, ‘Well, why don’t we have a town meeting in every town in Idaho?’” he recalled. Staffers quickly checked and determined there were some 200 incorporated towns in the state. He’s hit more than half now, but he’s also held meetings in some unincorporated towns.

“We give an hour to each meeting,” Crapo said, and he sometimes holds as many as half a dozen in a day. On Tuesday, for example, he hit Filer, Hollister, Castleford, Buhl, Hagerman and Bliss, which marked his 115th town meeting in the series.

Today, Crapo had five town meetings scheduled, but three had to be canceled – in Homedale, Marsing and Murphy – due to the fast-growing Soda fire, which has forced evacuations in the area. All will be rescheduled, his office said. He’s holding one in New Plymouth this afternoon, and was in Middleton this morning.

Crapo, a Republican who is seeking a fourth six-year term in the Senate, has no announced opposition. His communications director, Lindsay Nothern, said the town meetings have largely been exchanges about issues, with most questions about national issues and the senator’s take, but others focusing on local issues, like refugee resettlement issues raised earlier this week in the Magic Valley. “People are generally receptive,” Nothern said. “There’s disagreement in the room, but also a lot of give and take that’s really sincere.”

Some wondered if Crapo would seek a fourth term after an uncharacteristic drunken driving arrest in December of 2012; he’s long been known as a teetotaler and his Mormon faith forbids drinking. Crapo apologized after the arrest, pleaded guilty, said he’d been wrong to begin drinking occasionally to relieve stress and had sworn off alcohol. The incident, now nearly three years in the past, appears to have blown over; no one’s asked about it at the town meetings. Nothern, who’s attended “just about all of ‘em,” said, “It has never come up.”

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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