Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Sen. James Risch (R)

Idaho

N/A

risch.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 2008, term expires 2020, 2nd term.

Born: May 3, 1943, Milwaukee, WI

Home: Boise, ID

Education: U. of ID, B.S. 1965, J.D., 1968.

Professional Career: Partner, Risch, Goss, Insinger, 1975-08; Rancher.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Roman Catholic

Family: Married (Vicki L. Choborda) , 3 children ; 7 grandchildren

Republican James Risch was elected to the Senate in 2008 after serving as Idaho’s lieutenant governor and governor. He has been active on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees in establishing himself as a conservative counterweight to the Obama administration on foreign policy.

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.

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 George W. Bush’s Interior secretary.

Risch had just seven months in what he considered his dream job, and he was determined to make the most of it. 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%, 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.

When November rolled around, 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 resisted immense pressure from his Senate colleagues to resign immediately, but then decided against seeking reelection in 2008. Risch announced his intention to run.

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 ran as an independent. Risch raised more than twice as much money as LaRocco, and the national Democratic Party never targeted the race. He won the election 58%-34%, with 5% for Rammell.

Risch entered the Senate at age 65, after an extensive political career as well as years in business as owner of a trailer company and property management firm, which made him one of the Senate’s wealthiest members. He has been an aggressive conservative ally of his more mild-mannered Idaho Senate colleague Mike Crapo.

He and Crapo were among 16 senators backing Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul’s unsuccessful and ambitious amendment in March 2012 to dramatically slash federal spending. Risch has opposed most of President Barack Obama’s spending initiatives. “I ran for this office as a deficit hawk, and now that I am here, I have moved even further in that direction,” he told The Idaho Statesman. When the Obama administration sought to regulate the for-profit college industry through “gainful employment” regulations—which would withdraw federal money from higher education programs if graduates have high rates of student loan default—Risch led a group of GOP senators in introducing legislation to block the move. The liberal Center for American Progress accused him of parroting what it said were the for-profit industry’s exaggerated claims about how many health care workers it trains. During the 2009 debate over Obama’s economic stimulus bill, Risch accused Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of taking $50 million from the bill to save a species of mouse found only in her district, a claim that turned out to be wrong.

Risch has repeatedly criticized Obama’s foreign policy. He said in August 2012 that the Law of the Sea Treaty defining nations’ ocean usage and another administration-backed effort to conclude a United Nations treaty on reducing firearms “would push the U.S. away from our constitutional foundations and supplement its authority with judgments from international courts and U.N. bureaucracies.” When the Foreign Relations panel sought to take up the New START arms control treaty with Russia in September 2010, Risch tried to stop the vote, citing new intelligence that he said he couldn’t reveal in open session that led him to question Russia’s intentions. And when the full Senate took up the pact in December 2010, he again unsuccessfully demanded a delay, noting that Russian troops reportedly had stolen five U.S. Humvees used in military exercises. When the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty came under criticism for making it seem as if waterboarding helped find Osama bin Laden, he distanced himself from other senators and said the controversial interrogation technique provided “a scintilla of evidence” in locating the al-Qaida leader.

On the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he worked to add provisions increasing the roles for biomass and geothermal energy in the 2009 energy bill. He wound up voting against the final bill because, he said, it didn’t go far enough to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and did too little to encourage expansion of nuclear power. He told the Twin Falls Times-News in August 2011 he thought it was possible to have clean air and water “without sending out the Gestapo to enforce the thing.”

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2752

(202) 224-2573

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 483
Washington, DC 20510-1206

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2752

(202) 224-2573

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 483
Washington, DC 20510-1206

DISTRICT OFFICE

(208) 342-7985

(208) 343-2458

350 North Ninth Street Suite 302
Boise, ID 83702-5470

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2752

(202) 224-2573

350 North Ninth Street Suite 302
Boise, ID 83702-5470

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2752

(202) 224-2573

Harbor Plaza Suite 213
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814-2286

DISTRICT OFFICE

(208) 667-6130

(208) 765-1743

Harbor Plaza Suite 213
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814-2286

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2752

(202) 224-2573

901 Pier View Drive Suite 202A
Idaho Falls, ID 83402

DISTRICT OFFICE

(208) 523-5541

(208) 523-9373

901 Pier View Drive Suite 202A
Idaho Falls, ID 83402

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2752

(202) 224-2573

313 D Street Suite 106
Lewiston, ID 83501-1894

DISTRICT OFFICE

(208) 743-0792

(208) 746-7275

313 D Street Suite 106
Lewiston, ID 83501-1894

DISTRICT OFFICE

(208) 236-6817

(208) 236-6820

275 South Fifth Street Suite 290
Pocatello, ID 83201-6410

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2752

(202) 224-2573

275 South Fifth Avenue Suite 290
Pocatello, ID 83201-6410

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2752

(202) 224-2573

1411 Falls Avenue East Suite 201
Twin Falls, ID 83301-3455

DISTRICT OFFICE

(208) 734-6780

1411 Falls Avenue East Suite 201
Twin Falls, ID 83301-3455

EXPORT CONTACTS » *

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Aerospace

Tim Petty
Deputy Legislative Director; Correspondence Director

Agriculture

Darren Parker
Deputy Legislative Director; Appropriations Director

Animal Rights

Darren Parker
Deputy Legislative Director; Appropriations Director

Tim Petty
Deputy Legislative Director; Correspondence Director

Appropriations

Darren Parker
Deputy Legislative Director; Appropriations Director

Banking

Budget

Charles Adams
Legislative Assistant

Campaign

Charles Adams
Legislative Assistant

Commerce

Disaster

Melanie Steele
Legislative Assistant

Education

Rachel Burkett
Scheduler; Legislative Assistant

Energy

Melanie Steele
Legislative Assistant

Environment

Darren Parker
Deputy Legislative Director; Appropriations Director

Tim Petty
Deputy Legislative Director; Correspondence Director

Family

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Finance

Foreign

Zach Forster
Legislative Assistant

Chris Socha
Legislative Director

Govt Ops

Chris Socha
Legislative Director

Gun Issues

Melanie Steele
Legislative Assistant

Health

Rachel Burkett
Scheduler; Legislative Assistant

Homeland Security

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Zach Forster
Legislative Assistant

Melanie Steele
Legislative Assistant

Housing

Charles Adams
Legislative Assistant

Human Rights

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Immigration

Melanie Steele
Legislative Assistant

Internet

Judiciary

Melanie Steele
Legislative Assistant

Labor

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Land Use

Darren Parker
Deputy Legislative Director; Appropriations Director

Tim Petty
Deputy Legislative Director; Correspondence Director

Medicare

Rachel Burkett
Scheduler; Legislative Assistant

Military

Zach Forster
Legislative Assistant

Minorities

Darren Parker
Deputy Legislative Director; Appropriations Director

Native Americans

Darren Parker
Deputy Legislative Director; Appropriations Director

Religion

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Rules

Kris Hanisch
Administrative Director

Science

Tim Petty
Deputy Legislative Director; Correspondence Director

Seniors

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Small Business

Social Security

Charles Adams
Legislative Assistant

Tax

Charles Adams
Legislative Assistant

Technology

Tim Petty
Deputy Legislative Director; Correspondence Director

Telecommunications

Tim Petty
Deputy Legislative Director; Correspondence Director

Trade

Zach Forster
Legislative Assistant

Transportation

Charles Adams
Legislative Assistant

Veterans

Zach Forster
Legislative Assistant

Welfare

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Charles Adams
Legislative Assistant

Women

Rebecca Cotton
Legislative Assistant

Election Results

2014 GENERAL
James Risch
Votes: 285,322
Percent: 65.29%
Nels Mitchell
Votes: 151,697
Percent: 34.71%
2008 GENERAL
James Risch
Votes: 371,744
Percent: 57.65%
Larry LaRocco
Votes: 219,903
Percent: 34.11%
Rex Rammell
Votes: 34,510
Percent: 5.35%
2008 PRIMARY
James Risch
Votes: 80,743
Percent: 65.34%
Scott Syme
Votes: 16,660
Percent: 13.48%
Richard Phenneger
Votes: 6,532
Percent: 5.29%

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