We’ve seen this movie before. David Leroy, the onetime golden boy of Idaho’s Republican Party, is running for Congress in Idaho’s First District – 23 years after he was defeated for the same office.
Except for the gray hair and wrinkles that come with age, the 69-year-old basically is the same person I knew when he came within an eyelash of winning the governorship in 1986 -- friendly, sharp and self-depreciating with his humor. His political defeats, to Cecil Andrus in the ’86 governor’s race and to Helen Chenoweth in the congressional race eight years later, were humbling. But in my contacts with him over the years, Leroy has never shown bitterness about those losses.
Now, he’s looking for a demanding and high-pressured career at an age when a lot of folks are thinking about at least slowing down with their professional lives. But as Leroy has told me, jokingly, “I never received that memo.” He has kept a full schedule with his law practice over the years, and his eyes are squarely on the future in his congressional bid.
“I return because the most important political job in America during the next six years will be ‘member of Congress,’” he said. “The election of Donald Trump to the presidency, while retaining party majorities in the House and Senate, presents a singular opportunity to address and resolve the political gridlock which has paralyzed this country’s legislative and policy making process.”
He also offers a shorter answer: “It’s broken.” Republicans and Democrats have held majorities in Congress at different times, but neither party has shown the ability to govern effectively. And already, we’re hearing talk about dragging Trump through impeachment. To say that politics is merely “broken” is an understatement.
“There needs to be conservative solutions, consistent with the people who voted for Donald Trump and his ambitions. And it can’t be the promise of hope and change, and the nation getting neither, as we’ve seen in the previous eight years.”
One Idaho congressman is not going to fix all problems. But in the case of Leroy, Idaho could see more unity in the Idaho congressional delegation, particularly in the House. Judging by their style and actions, Congressman Raul Labrador and Second District Congressman Mike Simpson might as well be from different planets.
Simpson, who sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee, tends to be loyal toward Republican leadership. Labrador, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, spits in the face of establishment politics and has targeted leadership with his criticisms. Leroy and Simpson have known one another for many years and Simpson’s wife, Kathy, has been involved with Leroy’s statewide campaigns.
Leroy is on equally friendly terms with Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. Going to Washington, and serving with men who gained political prominence in the ‘80s and ‘90s, would have the flavor of a homecoming for Leroy – as well as a remarkable political comeback.
Leroy has a strong resume, though much of it comes from the days of fax machines and rotary-dial telephones. He’s a former Ada County prosecutor, state attorney general and lieutenant governor and ran a small federal agency under former President George H.W. Bush.
He has learned from his defeats, particularly in the 1994 congressional race when he was presumed to be the frontrunner. That lesson was, “Get in early.” He wasted little time getting in the race after Labrador announced his candidacy for governor. Leroy likely will have plenty of company before it’s over, but he’s off to a nice head start.
“I will not abuse my neighbors by campaigning too much or too soon,” Leroy says. “However, I will be engaging daily with the great people of Idaho to listen, learn and refine a plan of action to make the 1st District stronger and more vital.”
If elected, don’t expect Leroy to be an extension of Labrador, a popular figure with hardline conservatives in the First District. For one thing, Leroy would not join the Freedom Caucus – opting instead for the formation of an “Idaho Caucus,” which also would include delegations from other smaller states to work on issues of common interest.
It’s not nearly as flashy as the Freedom Caucus, which has done a lot to change the political landscape during this decade. But to Labrador detractors – and he has his share of those in the First District – electing someone in the caliber of Leroy would be a welcome relief.