Here's my full column from Sunday's Spokesman-Review:
By Betsy Z. Russell
Idaho GOP U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s Democratic challenger, Jerry Sturgill, is criticizing Crapo over his 2013 DUI conviction, saying it shows that Washington has changed him.
Both men are observant members of the Mormon church, which forbids consuming alcohol. And Crapo long had been known as a teetotaler, which made his Dec. 22, 2012, drunken driving arrest all the more shocking.
On Jan. 4, 2013, Crapo pleaded guilty, saying he’d begun drinking occasionally at home, in secret, a year earlier in a misguided attempt to relieve stress, and had never driven drunk before. The senator said he was discouraged because a late Friday night of Senate work caused him to miss a flight home, forcing him to spend an extra day away from family while waiting for a Sunday flight.
After the conviction, Crapo said he was swearing off alcohol and apologized.
Sturgill, a Boise businessman who serves as a bishop with his church, said the incident was among many factors that prompted him to run against Crapo. “I think historically he’s been a pretty good senator,” Sturgill said, “but in the last few years, especially the last three, he’s changed. D.C. has changed him.”
Sturgill said, “The DUI was the most visible example. What was he even doing in D.C. the day before the day before Christmas? … I have at least anecdotal evidence that people are, to put it kindly, disappointed in him. He professed to be a good member of our church. He held high office in the church, and basically lived a double life.”
Sturgill also contended that since the incident, Crapo has changed as a senator. “He has skewed way to the right, and he’s not as effective as he has been,” he said.
Crapo sharply disputed that. “As I did at the time, I apologize to the people of Idaho,” he said. “At the time, I faced up to what I had done. It was probably the worst time of my life, in terms of dealing with a mistake and misconduct that I had done. And I faced up to my legal obligations and met all of them, and told my constituents that I would work my hardest to gain their confidence and support, and I have done so. I mean, I’ve worked hard to help people understand that I learned from this very serious mistake.”
He added, “That being said, I don’t think that my opponent’s charge that I’ve changed in terms of my advocacy for the people of Idaho … is valid one bit. I still fight as aggressively for the principles and values that I told the people I would fight for, as I have on Day One. And I continue to focus on the very things that I said I would focus on.”
Most undecided in high court race
Idaho’s GOP congressional incumbents have double-digit leads over their Democratic challengers, according to an Idaho Politics Weekly poll released last week, but most Idahoans still haven’t decided between the candidates in the nonpartisan Idaho Supreme Court race.
The poll, conducted by Utah pollster Dan Jones & Associates, queried 602 likely Idaho voters from Aug. 18-31; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. It found that Rupert attorney Robyn Brody was favored for the Idaho Supreme Court by 18 percent, while former state Sen. Curt McKenzie had 21 percent support. That difference is within the margin of error, so it’s essentially showing a dead heat between the two, who are in a runoff after being the top two vote-getters in a four-way primary in May. In the primary, Brody took 30.3 percent of the vote; McKenzie, 27.7 percent.
The poll found that 61 percent didn’t know whom they would vote for between the two. Brody and McKenzie will face off in a debate Oct. 28, to be broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television.
In Idaho’s only other contested statewide race on the November ballot, the poll found Senate incumbent Crapo supported by 57 percent; Democratic challenger Sturgill preferred by 20 percent; and Constitution Party candidate Ray Writz by 4 percent. That’s a whopping 37-point lead for Crapo, but Sturgill had this response: “It means that we’re still sneaking up on him.”
GOP Rep. Raul Labrador had support from 51 percent in the 1st Congressional District, where Democratic challenger James Piotrowski had 33 percent and 16 percent were undecided. The margin of error in the 1st District poll results was plus or minus 5.44 percent.
In the 2nd Congressional District, the poll showed GOP Rep. Mike Simpson with the highest support in the poll, at 65 percent; Democratic challenger Jennifer Martinez with 23 percent; and Constitution Party candidate Anthony Tomkins at 12 percent. In the 2nd District, the margin of error was plus or minus 6.02 percent.
Former GOP speaker endorses Dem leader
With every seat in the Legislature up for election this year, it’s that time of year when letters to the editor begin appearing in newspapers around the state endorsing candidates. But a recent one in the Twin Falls Times-News was a little unusual: It was from a former Republican speaker of the House, Bruce Newcomb, and it endorsed a Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett.
Newcomb noted his close friendship with Stennett and her late husband, former Sen. Clint Stennett. “Everyone I know that has observed her serve, including me, thinks she has done so with distinction and class,” Newcomb wrote. “It is my opinion that the voters of District 26 would be best served by voting for Michelle Stennett for state Senate District 26.”
Stennett, D-Ketchum, is seeking a fourth term in the Senate; she’s being challenged by Republican Dale Ewersen of Bellevue. Her late husband served in the Senate from 1995 to 2010 and in the Idaho House from 1991-1994 and also served as Senate minority leader.