Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Richard Stallings: The Man and the Candidate

When Richard Stallings announced his candidacy for his former seat in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year, I wondered how I might write about his candidacy and how it would feel to watch his campaign play out. Now on the eve of midterm results, I find myself as inarticulate about the man and the candidate as I have ever been.

There is no candidate I know quite like I do the Democratic candidate in Idaho's second congressional district. Richard Stallings is not a new name to Idaho voters and he is far from new to me.

If I had to pinpoint when Stallings came into my political consciousness, it wouldn't be him as much as his 1982 and 1984 opponent. Yes, that opponent. I grew up hearing how George Hansen was railroaded. And I vaguely remember the 1992 election, the victory of Bill Clinton being overshadowed by the defeat of a good congressman who had decided to run for the Senate here at home. He'd run against a young, good-looking mayor who didn't stay long in the seat. Stallings same returned six years later to run for the House seat he'd vacated to run for the Senate. He lost, but his service to his community didn't end there. He went on to serve as U.S. Nuclear Waste Negotiator, appointed by President Clinton, executive director of Pocatello Neighborhood Housing, a non-profit that helps low income Pocatelloans buy their homes, as chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, and councilman for the City of Pocatello.

As thrilled as I was when he threw his hat in the ring this cycle, I knew that the Richard Stallings of 2014 wouldn't be the candidate he was in his previous races. I, perhaps more than most, knew why. A short background of how I came to know Richard and why I can get away with that last sentence:

When I first met Richard in 2004, he was teaching a course on Idaho politics at Idaho State University. I'd never met Richard before, but had that honor at the 2004 Democratic Caucus for Bannock County. I decided to take his course at ISU in the spring of 2005. I would go on to take it several more times, for no other reason than Idaho history and politics became my academic focus and it was the easiest way to have a moment to ask my questions. My questions? Those had to do with the Stallings Congressional Collection at ISU. In 2005, Richard was running for re-election to the city council and I campaigned nonstop for him. It was at that time that I became the "keeper of the papers," as I considered myself then. For four years I spent day in and day out processing, cataloging and preparing for patrons the extensive collection of papers Stallings had compiled while serving four terms in the House. It was there that I became the person, second only to Richard himself, that knew every detail of his congressional career.

What I've come to know about Richard Stallings could fill a book and may one day do exactly that, but what I want to speak today is the man and the candidate and why I think the 2014 version of Stallings is nothing like the candidate of elections past.

If you've paid any attention to the 2nd CD race, you know that the worst charge against Stallings is that he can be a bit brash, honest to a fault. As I said the other night while watching what I presume will be the final political debate of his career, if Richard's biggest fault is being too honest, I would much rather have that than a sly politician who tells you what he thinks you want to hear. Richard Stallings has always been one of those what you see is what you get candidates. As an Idaho Democrat, he was always pro-life with an A-rating from the NRA. If you didn't like those things as a Democrat, too bad. Richard was always going to be what he was and nothing else. He could have compromised on his principles, but that just wouldn't have been Richard. That congressman and that candidate? He is even more honest and principled today. He isn't going to change his mind or his tone. It's refreshing, in my opinion, but isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea. However, consider his opponent and his wobbly principles. Which would you prefer?

Something I have always appreciated about Stallings is the way he actually wanted to govern rather than looking ahead to whatever possible re-election battle loomed ahead. The nuts and bolts of policy was important, especially to a man who was not only trained as an historian but went on to teach young historians at the university level. His knowledge of the successful and failed policies of the past shaped his work on policies of the present and future. I firmly believe that sort of institutional knowledge would be useful in the House. And unlike his opponent on the ballot today, he would not be looking ahead to the possibility of an eventual chairmanship that may or may not come his way when he makes decisions that affect Idahoans now.

As a candidate and as a congressman, Stallings is principled and honest. As a man, as you can imagine, he is no different. He has been married to his lovely wife Ranae for over fifty years. He has three great children who have supported his many years of public service. He is a man of faith. His compassion and care are what people know him by. In fact, not long goes by in my own life before he checks in to see how I am feeling, how my awful back is doing and what I've been doing lately. He constantly asks if I need anything long before he asks for any favors on his own behalf. This is his way. And as someone who has campaigned for him in the past, gone door-to-door and made numerous calls on his behalf, I can tell you every third house you stop at or third phone number you dial, you will encounter a grateful Idahoan who has a story about how the congressman helped them with this or that. This kind of compassion and devotion to the needs of Idahoans is exactly what we need these days.

My hope is that all of this truly matters to 2nd CD voters. But if it doesn't, if Idahoans don't know or care that Stallings is why returning LDS missionaries are now allowed to accept their 2-year-old appointment to one of the military academies, that the Craters of the Moon National Preserve wouldn't have become a preserve if not for the groundwork laid during Stallings' tenure, or if they live within the Snake River Basin and don't know that Stallings spearheaded the Fort Hall Indian Water Rights Act of 1990 that distributed water rights among the tribe, local and county governments as well as the Department of the Interior--water that we all use in various ways today, then Idahoans are worse off in their ignorance.

Stallings would be a friend to INL without the pressure of his party and the Tea Party to rein in spending. Stallings would fight for Idaho State University and Boise State University, as he has for decades, in their shared mission to be research institutions of the highest caliber. He would be the kind of the congressman who doesn't turn away visiting Idahoans at his D.C. office simply because they aren't CEOs or ambassadors to the biggest companies and financial donors in Idaho and elsewhere. He would be, as he always has been, a man of the people, willing to do their bidding and work for them.

My biggest regret is that today, the first time in my life that I would have had the chance, I don't live in the 2nd congressional district and can't cast my own ballot for my friend and mentor.

1 comment :

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