Sen. James Risch (R)
Elected: 2008, term expires 2014, 1st term.
Born: May 2, 1943, Milwaukee, WI .
Education: U. of ID, B.S. 1965, J.D., 1968..
Family: Married (Vicki); 5 children.
Elected office: Ada Co. prosecuting atty., 1970-74; ID Senate, 1974-89, 1995-2003; ID lt. gov., 2003-2006, 2007-09; ID gov., 2006.
Professional Career: Partner, Risch, Goss, Insinger, 1975-08; Rancher.
James Risch, who has been Idaho’s lieutenant governor and governor, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008. He succeeded Republican Sen. Larry Craig, who declined to seek re-election after he was arrested the previous year in a solicitation-for-sex sting. Risch (RISH, like wish) grew up in Wisconsin and moved to the West to study forestry. He earned a law degree at the University of Idaho. In 1970, at age 27, Risch was elected Ada County prosecutor—a high-profile position in the state’s capital and largest city, Boise. He went after the illicit drug trade so aggressively that his enemies tried to plant a bomb in his car. After that incident, Risch and his wife and political confidant, Vicki, put a piece of tape on the hood of their car every night so they could detect any tampering. In 1974, Risch was elected to the state Senate, where he served longer than anyone else in Idaho history. He earned a reputation as an ambitious and determined legislator; he always carried an index card in his back pocket, one side listing bills that he wanted to pass and the other listing bills he was determined to kill. Immediately gunning for a leadership position, he became majority leader after the 1976 election, defeating a young colleague named Larry Craig for the position. Although popular with some of his colleagues, Risch was known as a bully to a number of the younger senators whom he pressured to vote his way.
|James Risch (R)||371,744||(58%)||($3,573,256)|
|Larry LaRocco (D)||219,903||(34%)||($1,421,746)|
|Rex Rammell (I)||34,510||(5%)||($439,397)|
|James Risch (R)||80,743||(65%)|
|Scott Syme (R)||16,660||(13%)|
|Richard Phenneger (R)||6,532||(5%)|
He was brought back down to earth by a Democratic challenger who beat him in the 1988 election. He ran again in 1990, but this time he was defeated in the GOP primary. Five years later, he was appointed to fill a state Senate vacancy. Less confrontational this time around, Risch moved back into the ranks of leadership as assistant Republican floor leader. He became one of the driving forces in the Idaho Republican Party even as the state elected a string of Democratic governors. In 2002, Risch ran for lieutenant governor and won by a comfortable margin. He served in the shadow of Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne for three years and finally assumed the top job when Kempthorne became President Bush’s Interior Department secretary. Risch had just seven months in what he considered his dream job, and he was determined to make the most of it. He had vowed not to run against fellow Republican Butch Otter for the GOP nomination for governor in 2006; his plan was to run for a second term as lieutenant governor. Although many political insiders expected him to reconsider after he became governor, Risch kept his word and poured his energy into the period between Kempthorne’s departure and the 2006 gubernatorial election.
Within two weeks of taking office, Gov. Risch ordered a reorganization of Idaho’s Health and Welfare Department. He created the position of state drug czar to counter the growth in the illicit methamphetamine market in the state. Displeased that the Legislature failed to provide property-tax relief in its regular session, he called the first special session in 14 years. One day in August, the heavily Republican Legislature obediently passed bills cutting local property taxes by $260 million, raising the sales tax from 5% to 6% (which generated $219 million), and cutting state spending by $50 million. The voters approved the tax changes 72%-28%. After wide consultation, he prepared a roadless-areas plan for 9 million acres of national forest that was approved by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and was generally accepted by environmental groups. Risch moved to protect the Boulder-White Clouds and Owyhee Canyonlands wilderness areas. To prevent mercury contamination, he effectively barred construction of pulverized coal plants in the state.
When November rolled around, Otter was elected governor by an unremarkable margin, besting Democrat Jerry Bradly 53%-44%. Risch beat former Democratic Rep. Larry LaRocco for lieutenant governor 58%-39%. But another goal beckoned: the U.S. Senate seat first won by his old rival Craig in 1990. Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport men’s room in 2007 for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct; he was under immense pressure, especially from some Senate colleagues, to resign. It was widely speculated that Risch would be Otter’s choice to replace Craig if he did. Craig declined to resign but decided not to seek re-election in 2008. Soon afterward, Risch announced his intention to run for the seat.
He had little competition for the Republican nomination. His Democratic opponent was, once again, LaRocco, who had been elected to the House in 1990 and 1992 but was defeated in the Republican sweep of 1994. Another opponent was Democrat Rex Rammell, a rancher who had lost 160 of his elk herd after they escaped from his land and were ordered shot by then-Gov. Risch. Rammell ran as an independent; a Republican lawsuit to remove him from the ballot failed. Risch raised more than twice as much money as LaRocco, and the national Democratic Party never targeted the race. Risch felt free to go out to Iowa and campaign for his erstwhile fellow governor, Mitt Romney, in the January presidential caucuses.
Risch won the election 58%-34%, with 5% for Rammell. LaRocco carried just four counties, two dominated by wealthy residents in the resorts of Sun Valley and Jackson Hole, one dominated by the University of Idaho, and one dominated by old silver-mining towns such as Kellogg. Risch entered the Senate at age 65, after an extensive political career. But he had considerably better prospects for staying in the Senate longer than the only other Idahoan to serve as lieutenant governor, governor, and U.S. senator—Democrat Charles Gossett. When Gossett was governor, he appointed himself to the Senate in 1945, only to be defeated in the 1946 primary.