Sen. Mike Crapo, seeking his third term in office, has found common ground in at least one area with his Democratic opponent, Jerry Sturgill. Although Crapo has been in the Senate for 18 years, he also is frustrated with the gridlock and dysfunction in Congress.
“According to polls, only about 13 percent of the people give Congress a positive rating,” Crapo says. “If I were one of the people called in those polls, I’d be expressing my concern with what’s happening in Congress.”
The federal budgeting process, marked with continuing resolutions to keep Washington running and threats of a government shutdown, is practically a lost cause. With a national debt of $19 trillion, and both political parties being responsible for the mess, it’s tough for anybody to claim to be “conservative.”
Crapo, who has been at the center of budget debates, is not blind to the problems or the political breast-beating that occurs on both sides of the aisle. But he’d like to see Congress get a grip on spending before he leaves the Senate. “We cannot quit,” he says. “We must deal with these issues. Failure to do so can tear down our ability to build the American dream.”
Former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and North Carolina businessman Erskine Bowles were on the right track a few years ago, heading up a commission that came up with recommendations for trimming the deficit. Crapo was part of a bipartisan “Gang of Six” that seemed to be gaining traction. Then, partisan politics got in the way and everybody was back to Square 1 – or, to be more precise, Square $19 trillion.
“We know the kinds of things we need to do – reforming the entitlement system and budget laws,” Crapo said. “The frustration is getting the political will to move forward.”
But for Crapo, work in the Senate is not all about budget battles and political standoffs. He has conducted his own war on gridlock in other way, working with Democrats on a variety of issues. He has joined with Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden in the effort to change the funding mechanism for wildfires and for the Secure Rural Schools program aimed at bolstering funding for schools in timber-dependent areas. Crapo was part of the “Gang of Six” with Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and two other Democrats.
Don’t hold your breath for Democrats to endorse Crapo in his race against Sturgill. But Crapo does not shy away from working with colleagues across the aisle on issues of common interest. Crapo bristles at Sturgill’s suggestion that Crapo is part of the problem with gridlock in Washington.
“The record shows that I work hard to break that gridlock,” he said.
Now he is working hard for to win re-election, with the help of a hefty war chest and a strong campaign organization. But it’s not all about political strategists. Crapo schedules himself with a full slate of town hall meetings, often visiting towns where few politicians roam.
“We have a big map of Idaho, and a red dot on every incorporated town. I’ve been to every one of them,” he said.
The town halls are part of “official” business, but they have served as a good way for him to get himself and his message out about fiscal responsibility – and the folks in the small towns eat it up.
On the campaign side, he said, “I don’t take any race for granted. I know it is my responsibility to go to the people of Idaho and ask for their vote. Even if I did not have an announced opponent, I would be campaigning aggressively.”
In this case, he has an opponent in Sturgill who says he has raised $600,000 – including $240,000 of his own money. As Crapo describes in a fund-raising letter, “He’s a liberal attorney and investment banker certain to attract left-wing money from all over the country because the national Democrats desperately want to gain the extra seats they need to take back control of the U.S. Senate.”
One would think that Crapo’s chances of winning are pretty good. But in today’s anti-establishment environment, where the likes of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders can rise to the top tier of politics, there are no guarantees for longtime incumbents.
So, there is a legitimate senatorial race in Idaho. At least, that’s how Crapo is playing it.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.