Tea Party Voters In Idaho Don't Want Feds Intruding
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We have been looking at what some are calling the civil war inside the Republican Party, and doing it through the lens of one congressional primary race in Idaho. It pits an established incumbent against a Tea Party upstart. Yesterday, David Greene talked to the candidates. We also heard from voters who have depended on federal money that the incumbent, Rep. Mike Simpson, has brought into the district.
When we last heard from David, he was heading away from the more populated parts of the district into an area where Tea Party challenger Bryan Smith's message takes hold.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: We drove out of Idaho Falls, and went a couple hundred miles up into the mountains. And it is really remote. We're on this one-lane road, mountains on both sides. And off to the right here, this valley with ranches and cattle. I mean, you spin the FM dial in an area this isolated, and the dials just spins around. It stops on one place - this station, KSRA from Salmon, Idaho.
We were driving to meet up with Mike Barrett. He's the local Republican Party chair and also a gold miner, which, believe it or not, remains a pretty common trade in this area.
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GREENE: This is really pretty country.
MIKE BARRETT: Right over there is the Boulder White Clouds area.
GREENE: OK. Down this way.
BARRETT: Yeah. So, the...
GREENE: But why do they call it that? What am I looking at that would make it Boulder White Clouds - that name?
BARRETT: Because it's a big old boulder in the middle of nowhere, and there's clouds above it.
GREENE: Joking aside, the Boulder White Clouds are two mountain ranges full of resources like gold, silver and copper. Like much of Idaho, these mountains mostly belong to the federal government. Environmental groups have been urging President Obama to add more protection by declaring the area a national monument. Barrett hates the idea because, he says, it will make it harder for miners, ranchers and other local people to use the land.
BARRETT: It's already federal land so it's locked up, for the most part. So when you make it a monument, basically what you're doing is, you're throwing away the key.
GREENE: Barrett is in no mood to give up ground on this, and that's why the Tea Party candidate in this race speaks to him more than a longtime congressman, who Barrett says is too eager to compromise.
Now, I gather that the argument of some conservationists and people who support the monument, their position is a federal government should be able to protect the most beautiful parts of a country. That's sort of their role.
BARRETT: Well, I disagree with that because I don't think that was ever the intention of the federal government. I don't think the theory behind the federal government was hey, if we create a strong federal central government, we can lock places up to look at later. I don't think the founding fathers ever envisioned that an individual with a stroke of a pen could just lock something up forever. I think that's exactly what they were trying to get away from.
GREENE: And Barrett thinks deep questions like that aren't even on the minds of politicians these days, who he says are too obsessed with bargaining and small victories.
BARRETT: And I know everybody says, oh, nobody gets everything they want, but that's really a dim view of it. To me, compromise is mutually assured destruction. Take baking an apple pie. This is how the government would do it: We're going to make an apple pie. So the Republicans say, well, we want Granny Smith apples. Democrats say, oh, not - red delicious. So they fight back and forth. We get up against the deadline, which is how we manage now - it's crisis management - get up against the deadline, and guess what the compromise is? We're going to make an apple pie without apples.
GREENE: Baking is probably a little different than governing, right?
BARRETT: No, it really isn't.
(SOUNDBITE OF KSRA BROADCAST)
LEO MARSHALL: Here's Urban and Lambert, "We Were Us." Thanks for listening.
GREENE: That lone radio station was still playing as we drove away from the Boulder White Clouds towards the small town of Salmon and the studio that was sending out the signal. Leo Marshall doubles as mayor of Salmon and voice of KSRA.
MARSHALL: This is a fallout shelter.
GREENE: The fallout shelter?
MARSHALL: This is from the old emergency broadcast system.
GREENE: This room down here in the basement?
MARSHALL: This is designed so if there was a - the Russians dropped a bomb over here in Arcola, we would broadcast from here.
GREENE: You said if they dropped a bomb on...?
GREENE: Wherever. Keeping far-flung communities informed - that remains the station's mission today. Marshall says he tries to limit politics on the air. Then again, when the two candidates in this primary, Congressman Mike Simpson and Tea Party challenger Bryan Smith, want to talk to this part of Idaho, KSRA will have them on. They're the only game in town.
MARSHALL: We're it. This station - we're 169 miles from the Idaho Falls area. Montana, the closest town is Hamilton, which is 90 miles, and look at the mountains around us. So, we're pretty much the station here. Pretty soon we're going to have a talk show. We have one that's called "Voice of the Valley" at 9:30 Monday through Friday. And today, the American Legion are going to come in and talk about whatever the American Legion's got in mind, so - and I've got to get ready for that.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: "Voice of the Valley" is brought to you by Jones and K.C. Funeral Homes.
MARSHALL: All right. We have in the studio today none other than Ron Adams and Jan Johnson. And, of course, we also have John Wayne.
JOHN WAYNE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America...
GREENE: "Voice of the Valley" was going out to tiny communities - in some cases to people who may live miles from their closest neighbor. Many here see the federal government intruding on that way of life, and the Tea Party seems to be tapping into that. Shirley Sullivan works at the radio station here. She said she was upset recently when a federal court got involved in whether to restrict the hunting of wolves in this community.
SHIRLEY SULLIVAN: People scream when you kill one of them, but they don't scream when they kill cows and baby calves, which happens a lot.
GREENE: One of the solutions, some people say, is that federal land should be given back to the state of Idaho so the state's more in control. I mean, is that an idea that you like?
SULLIVAN: I think in a lot of ways I think the state could manage a lot of this land better than the federal government could, because so many rules are made for heavily populated areas. We're not out here.
GREENE: And this is what has some incumbents in the Republican Party nervous these days. It's one of those days where anger at Washington is strong - so strong that people like Shirley Sullivan area little defensive about their feelings.
SULLIVAN: Am I anti-government? I'm not anti-government. This is the best country in the world to ever live in.
GREENE: Inside the studio, Leo Marshall cued up this, the next song. Soon, his airwaves will likely have more political ads and campaign news as the May Republican primary approaches; and some of the views we heard will be turned into votes.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: This is KSRA, Salmon, Idaho.
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MONTAGNE: That's our David Greene in Idaho. And those are just some of the views we'll hear from that state. We'll keep following this race through the primary in May. It's MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.